Israel quietly lobbies UN for tougher UNIFIL action

UN envoy Shalev says peacekeepers helped Hizbullah supporters cross into Israel.

unifil lebanese army 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
unifil lebanese army 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's mission to the United Nations is pushing - in quiet discussions both in New York and in key capitals in Europe - for the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers to confront Hizbullah supporters in southern Lebanese villages following the illegal entry into Israel by demonstrators over the weekend. Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev accused a contingent of UNIFIL peacekeepers of cooperating with the group that crossed the border, in a letter on Monday to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Security Council President Ruhakana Rugunda. Diplomatic sources said Israel was continuing discussions with members of the Security Council on the matter. In addition to increased accountability by the Lebanese military, Israel is pushing for a change to UNIFIL's rules of engagement to ensure that it can enter villages without needing to coordinate with the Lebanese Armed Forces. According to UNIFIL's current rules of engagement, the peacekeepers are not allowed to enter villages to search for Hizbullah arms caches without first coordinating the operation with the Lebanese army. A decision on the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate is scheduled for late this month in the Security Council. In the coming weeks, Israel plans a major diplomatic push to change the force's rules of engagement. If approved by the UN, the new rules would still need to be approved by the Lebanese government. "Everyone has an interest in keeping 1701 alive and kicking," one Israeli diplomat said, referring to the Security Council resolution that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. "We want to see an adaptation to the new modus operandi of Hizbullah in the south. It has to be done first and foremost by the Lebanese state, then by UNIFIL." Of late, member states are starting to accept the severity of the situation and recognize Jerusalem's claims, the diplomat said, adding that Israel was trying to work within the parameters of Resolution 1701, pushing for a more "robust" implementation that addresses Hizbullah's deployment. "The situation in southern Lebanon is not what's described in the reports," the diplomatic source said. Israeli officials are concerned that UNIFIL reports to the Security Council do not accurately portray the seriousness of the situation. Since the peacekeepers cannot enter the villages without approval from the Lebanese army, by the time they search for arms caches, the evidence has been removed, and sanitized reports are sent back to New York. In her complaint to Ban and Rugunda, Shalev lashed out at Hizbullah for its "grievous violations of Resolution 1701" in the border breach. She further criticized an attack by Lebanese villagers against UNIFIL troops on Saturday who were investigating July 14's explosion in a suspected Hizbullah arms depot. That explosion, one Israeli official said, was a "smoking gun" demonstrating that a significant buildup was taking place on UNIFIL's watch.