UN renews Lebanon peacekeeping mandate, reduce troops

UNIFIL has come under heavy criticism in recent years from both the US and Israel.

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol the border with Israel, in the village of Khiam, Lebanon August 26, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO)
UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol the border with Israel, in the village of Khiam, Lebanon August 26, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO)
The UN Security Council (UNSC) decided on Friday to extend the mandate for a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon by another year, but will reduce the number of troops in the region amid US and Israeli criticism over the mission's efficiency.
The council added several demands from the government of Lebanon to allow UNIFIL to operate more efficiently after efforts from Israel and the US to strengthen to force's authority in the face of Hezbollah activity.  
These new demands include an enhanced reporting mechanism to the UN for violent incidents and violations; a call for the Secretary-General to create a detailed action plan to optimize the force’s effectiveness; and a strong condemnation of attempts to hamper the force’s freedom of movement and of threats posed to UNIFIL troops.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which this year numbered over 11,000 personnel, has acted in southern Lebanon since 1978. As of 2006, it was tasked with monitoring compliance with UN Resolution 1701, which set out the terms of the ceasefire that ended the Second Lebanon war.
“Today we end a long period of UNSC complacency on the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and the growing, destabilizing influence of Iran and the terrorist organization Hezbollah,” US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said in a statement. “Today’s resolution is a step toward improving the mission’s effectiveness and access.”
She added that reducing UN peacekeeping troops from 15,000 to 13,000 is an important step toward right-sizing the mission. “UNIFIL will also have prompt and full access to sites necessary to contain Hezbollah and diminish its vast arsenal of weapons,” Craft continued.
“The Trump Administration will scrutinize UNIFIL to ensure these improvements are made,” she said. “We hope the reforms will spotlight actors who blatantly obstruct the mission and put peacekeepers and the people of both Lebanon and Israel in harm’s way.”
“The Security Council decision comes as a last warning for the Government of Lebanon. If Hezbollah continues to turn southern Lebanon into a base for its terrorist activity under UNIFIL’s nose, the Government of Lebanon will be held responsible and will bear full responsibility for any escalation of tensions or the grave consequences of such actions.”  Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan said.
“Israel will not allow terrorist attacks to emanate from Lebanese territory and will respond with force to any such crime. The Government of Lebanon is responsible for what transpires within its territory. In the upcoming months, we will closely watch how UNIFIL’s renewed mandate is implemented and determine whether there is a justification for the force’s presence.” Erdan continued.
UNIFIL has come under heavy criticism in recent years from both the US and Israel. The two countries have argued that UNIFIL’s mandate fails to fully empower it to operate as an observer force against Hezbollah.
They were particularly concerned by the mandate’s failure to ensure that UNIFIL can search for terror tunnels that Hezbollah has built along the border to attack Israel.
Knesset Deputy Speaker Sharren Haskel (Likud) wrote a letter to the UNSC in advance of the vote in which she urged the members to either reform UNIFIL or dissolve it.
“I ask you to renew it only after reexamining UNIFIL tasks and directives and providing their troops with the authority and means to carry out their mission,” wrote Haskel, who also chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs Subcommittee.
“It is crucial that under a renewed mandate UNIFIL forces will no longer need to request permission or coordinate the entering and searching of areas, compounds and bases within the territory under their supervision in the south of Lebanon. Be it a Lebanese military base, Hezbollah stronghold or private property.
“The lack of access and request of permission prevents them from finding weapons and strongholds of active terrorist cells,” Haskel explained.
“In addition," she wrote, "alongside standard and ineffective military equipment and routine, UNIFIL forces will have to be equipped with proper surveillance and security technology for intelligence gathering and territorial scouting, in order to achieve proper deterrence which is most important.
“Without a reform in both authority and equipment I have little hope that UNIFIL will be able to maintain any influence on the Lebanese-Israeli border and certainly will continue to have no effect as a peacekeeping force.”