Security Council renews UNIFIL mandate by 1 year

UN reports no progress in securing Lebanon-Syria border.

unifil 298 88 (photo credit: )
unifil 298 88
(photo credit: )
Israel welcomed the Security Council's decision Wednesday to renew UNIFIL's mandate in southern Lebanon, even though Jerusalem would have liked - and indeed has raised the matter in numerous capitals over the last few months - to see the peacekeepers' rules of engagement strengthened. The 15-member council voted unanimously to extend the mission until August 31, 2009. Meanwhile, no progress has been made securing large swaths of Lebanon's eastern border with Syria and security at the main Masnaa border crossing to Damascus is "disorganized and highly unsystematic," according to an independent inspection team dispatched last month by the United Nations. UNIFIL operates according to a UN Charter Chapter 6 mandate that only allows it to open fire in self-defense and prevents it from entering Lebanese villages without an escort from the Lebanese Armed Forces. Israel would like the UN force to receive a Chapter 7 mandate that would give it robust enforcement capabilities to counteract the buildup of Hizbullah forces in Lebanese villages. One Israeli diplomatic source said that given the current political realities in Lebanon and the fact that the world was keen on preserving a modicum of political stability there, it was very unlikely there would be any support for changing the mandate anytime soon. "Most of the countries believe now that the worst thing that could happen in Lebanon would be to shake up the political stability there, and that strengthening the rules of engagement would force the Lebanese government to answer in the negative, which would only complicate the very delicate situation there," the official said. The official said Jerusalem decided, in light of the change of the situation in Lebanon, to appear at Wednesday's Security Council debate and deliver a statement that would articulate Israel's concern about the arms smuggling into Lebanon, and the fact that Hizbullah was building up it forces both north and south of the Litani River. Deputy Ambassador Daniel Carmon raised the concerns to the Security Council during the pro forma discussion on the renewal of the mandate, which was to expire on Sunday. He also cited reports by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year about efforts by Hizbullah to impede UNIFIL operations. "Today, more than ever, we are witnessing challenges to UNIFIL's activity and mandate," Carmon told the council. "In Israel, we expect UNIFIL, under its renewed mandate, to exert its authority to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind and to resist attempts to prevent it from discharging its mandate." Carmon told The Jerusalem Post that any smuggling into the areas under UNIFIL control was not a reflection on the success of the peacekeeping mission but instead indicated Hizbullah's willingness to flout the international community. The report on the Lebanon-Syrian border released Wednesday was commissioned by Ban at the request of the Security Council to assess the implementation of Resolution 1701, passed to halt the Second Lebanon War. According to the 21-page document, four-wheel-drive vehicles are still crossing from Syria unchecked. Berms or other physical roadblocks are being dismantled or bypassed, and units based at observation posts have failed to enforce regular identity checks of pedestrians or cyclists. Despite claims that mobile patrols were conducted regularly, the four-person inspection team found no evidence of mobile patrol activity along the border. Instead, troops were deployed in stationary, military-style observations posts, including in "cross-border areas controlled by Palestinian groups, where it is crucial to maintain efficient control of any movement into Lebanese-controlled areas, as these areas are open to Syria." The team also found that the four border security agencies that have been combined into the Common Border Force, which includes the Lebanese Armed Forces, are not sharing information and have not conducted any enforcement operations based on specific intelligence. Israeli officials warned that the absence of reliable security along the Syrian border threatened to undermine peacekeeping efforts by UN forces in southern Lebanon. "Arms transfers are possible from Iran and Syria, and we see Hizbullah developing capabilities and they are nurtured by things that are bring moved through this porous border," Carmon said. "If you don't have security on this border, and it is penetrable, it is only strengthening Israel's view that [military] capabilities can be transferred into that area of Lebanon in violation of many Security Council resolutions."