Lebanese Daily News Brief 7/26/2021

DAILY NEWS


Former Prime Minister Mikati Named Prime Minister-Designate
Today former Prime Minister Najib Miqati was named Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate after securing 72 votes in parliamentary consultations. Miqati stressed that he would follow the French initiative in the formation of a new government. He said that if he “didn’t have specific foreign reassurances” he would not have moved forward. [Naharnet]

Lebanon Asks for UNIFIL Mandate to Be Extended
Today during talks with the UN Undersecretary-General for Peace Operations, President Michel Aoun asked for the UNIFIL mandate to be extended. He asked that no modifications be made to UNIFIL’s number or its missions in southern Lebanon. [The Daily Star]

MPs Withdraw Support for Beirut Port Special Council Motion
After last week’s parliamentary motion to try officials surrounding the Beirut Port blast through a special judicial council, dozens of MPs have removed their names. The petition was signed by over 50 MPs initially but pressure from activists and the media has led led to MPs to back out. Only 23 names are left in support of the motion. The motion would have opened a parallel investigation to Judge Tarek Bitar’s and legal activists say it would keep certain officials from being held accountable. [The 961]

Tripoli Man Self-Immolates Amid Dire Conditions
A man in Tripoli set himself on fire in desperation to protest the deteriorating living conditions in Lebanon. The Islamic Medical Association rescued the man and took him to Al-Salam Hospital. Food prices have increased 50 percent from ten days ago and Lebanese are struggling to put food on the table. [The 961] Today caretaker Economy Minister Raoul Nehme asked importers to lower their commodity prices. [Naharnet]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


Drowning in Corruption, Lebanon’s Water Supply Dribbles to a Halt
Jean AbiNader

AbiNader writes, “The availability of water for 1.7 million residents dropped in 2020 by 80% from 43.6 to 9 gallons of potable water a day. This has resulted in an increase of 35% in the price of private sector bulk water supplies, while the cost of bottled water has doubled. And where does the blame lay? There are no dollars to buy chlorine or spare parts for the municipal water systems – suppliers insist on being paid in real money, not Lebanese lira. Hard to blame them. Then there are the intermittent power supplies and blackouts interrupting the treatment, pumping, and distribution of water. That’s the government’s responsibility since it controls contracting and maintenance of the public water supply. And, about 40% of the safe water supply is wasted through faulty, corroded pipes and water being illegally diverted. Bad luck maybe, but more likely negligence on the part of the municipal and regional water authorities for ignoring or avoiding these issues for the past 20 years…Will 40 of Lebanon’s million/billionaires each please transfer $1 million to UNICEF, which is not a Lebanese entity, to enable UNICEF to carry out its commitment ‘to support, particularly as the global pandemic evolves, to ensure that the most basic right to clean water is met for children and families at this critical time for Lebanon?'”

Read more here

Middle East Institute
Mitigating the darkest hour: Lebanon’s struggle for power
Jessica Obeid

Obeid writes, “Lebanon is steadily plunging into total darkness. Decades of political bickering, weak governance, and vested interests have taken their toll on the power sector and are developing into economic and humanitarian crises. A long-term strategy focused on improving the sector’s governance is needed. In the short term, however, immediate actions such as distributed renewable energy and out-of-the-box financing mechanisms should be taken to avoid the darkest hour.”

Read more here

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 7/1/2021

DAILY NEWS


Shots Fired in Tripoli Amid Electricity Cuts and Fuel, Medicine Shortages
After rumors spread in Tripoli yesterday that a young girl died when an electricity cut stopped her machine that supplies oxygen, anger erupted among protesters. Armed men roamed some of Tripoli’s poorer neighborhoods, firing into the air and throwing stones at soldiers. Soldiers temporarily retreated from those areas to avoid clashes, but returned for patrols later in the day. [AP]

Vatican Hosts Summit with Lebanon’s Christian Leaders
Today, Lebanese Christian leaders are attending a summit with Pope Francis at Clementine Hall in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The Pope and the patriarchs will discuss the role religion can play in helping Lebanon through multiple crises. Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Protestant churches are represented at the summit. [Reuters]

UNICEF Warns Children in Lebanon are at Risk
In a press release today, UNICEF warned of the dire conditions children are facing in Lebanon due to the country’s multiple crises. The statement said 77 percent of households do not have enough food or enough money to buy food, and that over 30 percent of children skipped meals and went to bed hungry in the last month. Children are going without health care, without education, and some have been sent to work. [UNICEF]

David Hale CNBC Interview: No Financial Assistance Without Reforms
In an interview with CNBC, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale emphasized that Lebanon will not receive an international bailout, but if reforms are made, substantial aid will be delivered. He said, “The key to opening the door is in the hands of Lebanese leaders, they have to demonstrate to us that they have the will and the capacity to take the reforms needed so that any international financing will not be wasted.” [CNBC]

OPINION & ANALYSIS


National Review
A Currency Board Would Bring Lebanon Back From the Dead
Peter J. Tanous

Tanous writes: “With a currency board, the Lebanese pound would be backed 100 percent by an anchor currency, such as the U.S. dollar, and be freely convertible into its anchor currency at an absolutely fixed rate of exchange. Currency boards have proven successful in other distressed countries, where they have stopped hyperinflations and established stability. Indeed, a currency board in Lebanon is just what the doctor ordered. A stable, convertible currency would attract foreign capital — especially from thriving Lebanese expat entrepreneurs — revitalize the private sector, and revive GDP growth. Renewed growth based on a sound currency offers the prospects of reopening the debt markets for Lebanon and clawing back part of bank depositors’ losses. It would also ensure that the LAF is adequately financed and could support the families of its soldiers.”

ٍRead more here

Wilson Center
Building a Better Lebanon

Yesterday the Wilson Center hosted a virtual launch event for its new report, “Building a Better Lebanon,” which explores the best way out of Lebanon’s crises. Against a backgrop of weak institutional capacity and growing instability, the co-authors argue that any reform program for Lebanon should be simple, transparent, and most importantly managed by a credible government of reform.

ٍRead more here

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

Lebanon Daily News Brief 01/07/20

DAILY NEWS


World Bank Criticizes Beirut’s Port Management and Demands an Overhaul
Rim Zrein
The 961

New Lockdown Regulations Cause Great Anxiety for Family Breadwinners
Rosabel Crean
The Daily Star

Aoun Meets al-Rahi Who Propose Meeting with Hariri
Naharnet

OPINION & ANALYSIS


UNIFIL Military Head Emphasizes Need for Progress in Implementing UNSCR 1701
Jean AbiNader

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.

UNIFIL Military Head Emphasizes Need for Progress in Implementing UNSCR 1701

UNIFIL’s role in South Lebanon has always been the subject of controversy. It is charged with implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, adopted to “achieve a permanent ceasefire in the area based on a buffer zone free of armed personnel other than US and Lebanese Forces.” It has been constrained in its efforts by political decisions of Lebanese leaders unwilling to challenge Hezbollah’s dominance in the area and Israel’s insistence on violating Lebanese land and air space at will, invoking its security interests.

At the end of 2020, the head of mission and force commander of UNIFIL, General Stefano Del Col, sent a public message to the Lebanese in which he noted “occasional yet serious tensions across the Blue Line, along with heated rhetoric in both Lebanon and Israel.” He indicated that UNIFIL’s presence was a deterrent to more hostilities and supported stability in the country, and its more than 450 daily activities were key to the absence of hostilities for 14 years. But, he warned, it must not lead to complacency. “New developments in the south of Lebanon show promise. We need to look ahead and take further steps to mark the Blue Line and settle disputed areas as an important de-confliction measure.”

Importantly, Del Col added that his mission will continue to exert all efforts to support and increase the capacity of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) on land and on the sea. “The continued support of the international community for the LAF as the sole and legitimate provider of security is a crucial factor in the maintenance of peace and security in the south of Lebanon,” he said.

Ed Gabriel, President and CEO of the American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) commended the general’s message, saying that, “In our meetings with UNIFIL and my continued contacts with General Del Sol, he has noted the value of their daily patrols and hosting the meetings with the LAF and Israel in Naquora. Without UNFIL’s consistent efforts at de-confliction, US mediation efforts at settling the maritime border would have been more difficult. By insisting on support for the LAF, UNIFIL provides a strong endorsement for a Lebanese institution that is vital to the stability of the country.”

UNIFIL’s mission has become even more precarious with the statement on January 2nd by Iranian leader Amir Ali Hajizadeh that Lebanon is a front line in Iran’s war with Israel. This undermining of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence and his reference to Lebanon’s missiles as Iranian assets focused a harsh light on how Iran sees Lebanon as a mere tool of its foreign policy. His statement was criticized by many Lebanese leaders and President Aoun as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and independence.

The New Year poses many challenges for Lebanon’s leaders. These include restructuring and reviving its dysfunctional economy and reforming the gross mismanagement of a government that reflects sectarian rather than national priorities. The Lebanese people have endured more than a year of diminishing opportunities, shortages of essential products and services, dislocations and disruptions compounded by the pandemic, and the Beirut blast. How well Lebanon survives and in what environment is a question that will be answered for better or not in the coming months.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.

UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army Prove Once Again to be a Worthwhile Investment

UNIFIL forces stationed in Southern Lebanon were able to position themselves on April 15th between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Israeli troops to intervene before tensions broke out. Lebanon charged Israel with crossing the “Blue Line,” the controversial demarcated border between the two countries established in 2000. A “high alert” went out as Lebanese troops faced off with the Israeli soldiers, but UNIFIL intervened before things got out of hand. UNIFIL later stated that there were no infractions over the border.

During a visit in June of 2019, an ATFL delegation visited the LAF Southern headquarters and the Blue Line and were encouraged by what we saw. One critical task was bringing together Israeli and Lebanese military for a meeting every six weeks to discuss infractions and disagreements on the demarcation of the Blue Line, creating an atmosphere of dialogue rather than friction.

In our meetings we learned that UNIFIL conducts an average of 460 operations per day, including 75 with the LAF, to monitor infractions and enable the LAF to extend its operations in the south. We were informed that the LAF is capably carrying out its mandate, limiting infractions from Lebanon to a few minor incidents each month, mostly shepherds crossing the Blue Line. The Israelis are violating Lebanese airspace with more than 100 illegal monthly overflights of planes and drones as well as illegal incursions over the Blue Line for “security” purposes. The LAF requires more support to extend its reach more strongly in the south on land and in the Mediterranean Sea to better conduct operations to keep Hezbollah forces out of the area in line with recent UN resolutions and expectations.

By intervening to prevent an incident that could leader to “unintended consequences,” UNFIL demonstrated that it is a cost effective investment for the US, and that US support for the LAF has resulted in a capable, professional, competent, and American trained force when addressing its issues on the Lebanon’s borders.

UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army Prove Once Again to be a Worthwhile Investment

UNIFIL forces stationed in Southern Lebanon were able to position themselves on April 15th between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Israeli troops to intervene before tensions broke out. Lebanon charged Israel with crossing the “Blue Line,” the controversial demarcated border between the two countries established in 2000. A “high alert” went out as Lebanese troops faced off with the Israeli soldiers, but UNIFIL intervened before things got out of hand. UNIFIL later stated that there were no infractions over the border.

During a visit in June of 2019, an ATFL delegation visited the LAF Southern headquarters and the Blue Line and were encouraged by what we saw. One critical task was bringing together Israeli and Lebanese military for a meeting every six weeks to discuss infractions and disagreements on the demarcation of the Blue Line, creating an atmosphere of dialogue rather than friction.

In our meetings we learned that UNIFIL conducts an average of 460 operations per day, including 75 with the LAF, to monitor infractions and enable the LAF to extend its operations in the south. We were informed that the LAF is capably carrying out its mandate, limiting infractions from Lebanon to a few minor incidents each month, mostly shepherds crossing the Blue Line. The Israelis are violating Lebanese airspace with more than 100 illegal monthly overflights of planes and drones as well as illegal incursions over the Blue Line for “security” purposes. The LAF requires more support to extend its reach more strongly in the south on land and in the Mediterranean Sea to better conduct operations to keep Hezbollah forces out of the area in line with recent UN resolutions and expectations.

By intervening to prevent an incident that could leader to “unintended consequences,” UNFIL demonstrated that it is a cost effective investment for the US, and that US support for the LAF has resulted in a capable, professional, competent, and American trained force when addressing its issues on the Lebanon’s borders.

UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army, a worthwhile US investment

Recently, there has been concern over whether U.S. assistance for foreign militaries and UN global peacekeeping missions is worthwhile. I just returned from the Israeli-Lebanese border, where I saw first-hand the work of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its partner, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). This is a positive story that the Washington policy community should be made aware of.

My colleagues and I at the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) visited the LAF southern headquarters, the UNIFIL headquarters, and the Blue Line, established in 2000, separating Israel and Lebanon. We were encouraged by what we saw.

UNIFIL was established in 1978, under UN Security Council Resolution 425, to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. Following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the UN adjusted its mandate to facilitate the entry of the LAF to south Lebanon and monitor the cessation of hostilities.

Each August the UN Security Council reviews and votes to renew the mandate of UNIFIL. Last year, the Council encouraged Lebanon to deploy a model regiment and an offshore patrol vessel in UNIFIL’s area of operations and accelerate its deployments in the area. Evidence today shows that UNIFIL and LAF are fulfilling this mission with great success.

Lebanon and Israel do not have a peace agreement and often refer to each other as the “enemy.” However, it is scarcely known that Israeli and Lebanese generals have been meeting in a building on the Blue Line about every six weeks for more than a dozen years, discussing infractions and disagreements on the demarcation of the Blue Line. UNIFIL chairs and facilitates the discussion. They and UN representatives make up two sides of a four-sided table with Israeli and Lebanese generals facing each other.

During their meetings over the past decade the generals have identified 13 areas on the Blue Line called “reservations,” which indicate disagreements on precisely where the Blue Line should be drawn when examined on an enlarged, more detailed map. Although the generals are not empowered to negotiate on behalf of their countries, this ongoing dialogue demonstrates what is possible if the two governments one day negotiate a final settlement of their border. These are tangible confidence-building discussions.

We learned that Israeli and Lebanese experts believe that only two areas of the 13 reservations remain “difficult.” One could be settled by exchanges of secure heights overlooking an Israeli settlement for more land to Lebanon. The other contentious reservation is the Mediterranean Sea marker (commonly referred to as the Hof Line), which some believe is an issue that requires a separate negotiation.

In our meetings we learned that UNIFIL conducts an average of 460 operations per day, including 75 with the LAF, to monitor infractions and enable the LAF to extend its operations in the south. We were informed that the LAF is capably carrying out its mandate, limiting infractions from Lebanon to a few minor incidents each month, mostly shepherds crossing the Blue Line. The Israelis violate Lebanese airspace with more than 100 illegal monthly overflights of planes and drones as well as illegal incursions over the Blue Line.

Although there have been some points of contention, such as the Israelis deciding to build a wall and fence on two disputed areas without a resolution, and the Lebanese not making a public statement confirming tunnels discovered on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, a historic breakthrough could still happen.

Following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon in March, Special Envoy David Satterfield has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel to engage the parties in a political dialogue to settle either the land or maritime border, or both. It would be historic to achieve even a partial settlement of the border dispute.

The work of LAF and UNIFIL is proving to be worthwhile and, if negotiations begin in earnest in the coming weeks, they should take a large part of the credit, given their great work in interacting with Israeli generals and keeping peace on the border for nearly 13 years. The excellent performance by the UN and LAF should be acknowledged by the U.S. policy community as well.

 

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco and President and CEO of the American Task Force on Lebanon. The views expressed in this article are his own. 

Photo by Muhammed Ali Akman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Lebanon News: Progress on the Blue Line Demarcation with Israel? Interview with Interior Minister; S

After a push from US Secretary of State Pompeo and President Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, Lebanon finally seems ready to settle its southern border. The main obstacle among Lebanon’s leaders until now has been the speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri, who has wanted to settle the land and maritime borders simultaneously.

However, in a recent meeting with Major General Stefano del Col, commander of UNIFIL, Berri said “his country was prepared [to] establish a maritime border and special economic zone with Israel as long as it involved the same mechanism used in adopting the so-called Blue Line demarcation under the auspices of the UN,” according to an article in Ynetnews. The thorny issue for Lebanon is control of Shebaa Farms and other parcels in the area, which the country says are part of Lebanon although their status is the subject of conflicting claims.

The dispute is over the so-called Blue Line, drawn between Lebanon and Israel in June 2000 following the withdrawal of Israel’s military from the south of Lebanon. Despite the controversy, UNIFIL has included the area in its scope of operations since its inception.

UNIFIL would like nothing better than to have the border settled formally, although Lebanon and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations. Its hosting of tri-part meetings with military officials from Lebanon and Israel has been very effective in averting “unforeseen consequences” along the border. In fact, a senior Hezbollah official commented that it “is fully committed to working to liberate the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shuba hills and the village of Ghajar and put them under Lebanese sovereignty.”

What may be motivating Berri is unclear but what is clear is that if Lebanon’s sovereignty over offshore gas and oil reserves is established, South Lebanon in particular would benefit from investments ranging from exploration and production to distribution logistics, bringing badly needed jobs to the area. Later this year, drilling is scheduled to begin, and Lebanon is getting ready to open additional blocks to bidding, both of which would benefit from greater security and stability in the area.

Ynetnews quoted Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general and head of the Middle East Studies Center in Beirut, who told The Media Line that Lebanon had always sought to define its borders with Israel through UN mediation. “It’s not a new position or out of the ordinary,” he said. Having the UN mechanism as the facilitator is a natural extension of UNIFIL’s role.

To date, Israel and Lebanon have reached agreement on almost all of the issues on settling the land border, with Lebanon ceded some high areas to Israel for security purposes and being compensated with tracts of land that protect Lebanese villages. When it comes to the oil and gas potential, both countries have a stake in facilitating a solution sooner rather than later.

Recent expulsions of Syrian refugees from unlicensed camps on public land abutting public water sources is just another sad saga in building a case for repatriation sooner rather than later. According to the Al Jazeera story, Sami Alawieh, director of the Litani River Authority (LRA), said the agency sent in bulldozers to demolish the camp in southern Tyre because refugees there were polluting the already heavily contaminated river. “If the refugees erect tents on our agricultural land and their waste seeps into the ground and the river, then, of course, we need to move them,” Alawieh said.

At least 180 refugees were evicted in February from an informal settlement in the nearby town of Zahrani in a similar fashion, with the LRA claiming the refugees’ tents were on the site of an irrigation project. The LRA has carried out five such operations this year, evicting at least 1,500 Syrians from makeshift camps around Litani. The agency accused refugees of throwing waste into the river or in agricultural lands, blocking irrigation canals.

These evictions are being debated in public with those opposed to the continued presence of the refugees citing this as necessary to protect Lebanon’s environment. On the other hand, others accuse LRA and others of discrimination against the Syrians, creating a hostile environment to encourage them to return to Syria even if conditions are not settled for their security and safety.

HE Raya al Hassan, first female minister of the interior in Lebanon, was recently interviewed by Al Arabia about security issues in Lebanon and the region. Among other topics, she spoke about the important role that the US was playing in Lebanon. “The Americans are one of the most important supporters, especially in the field of training and arming of the internal and general security forces. There are also other donors such as the British and the EU and the French and we are lucky that there is serious work by donors to support the official security forces in Lebanon.”

Regarding the status of the Syrian refugees, she pointed out that she was the deputy head of the Future Movement and “Our position as the Future Movement, I represent a political party as well, is that we want the Syrians to go back home as soon as possible, as long as their return is safe and fast. We do not want to force any Syrian to return without guaranteeing his or her safety.”

She stressed the need to create a new culture within the security services that moves from being perceived as oppressors to protectors. “Absolutely, I mean a cultural change in the gendarmerie, which is how to preserve security within the approach of human rights. The citizens have rights and we must treat them with respect, and tell them that we are protecting you, and we do not want to oppress you. We are working to help you, we want to improve traffic. There are several things that we’re trying to apply through practices that several projects are adopting, in public security or internal security forces, which mostly deals with citizens.”

So what do the Lebanese do while the government debates? Beirut has set a new Guinness World Record for the number of national flags raised in a city for 24 hours. The Beirut Alive Association raised a total of 26,852 Lebanese flags, breaking New York’s Waterloo record of 25,599 flags. This bit of information comes from a Gulf News post, which noted that “The event was organized under the patronage of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, represented by MP Rola Tabsh, at the Nejmeh Square in downtown Beirut…” MP Tabsh pointedly said, “Today they were capable of raising thousands of Lebanese flags to enter the Guinness book. This is a national initiative which reflects Beirut’s role and which implicates no flag other than the Lebanese will be raised in Beirut.”

UNIFIL Mandate Renewed Amid Continuing Concerns and Qualified Support from Security Council

On August 30th the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a year. UN Security Council members expressed serious concerns, according to VOANews.com,“that violations of the cease-fire agreement between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new conflict and urged international support for Lebanon’s armed forces and their stepped up deployment in the south and at sea.”

Rodney Hunter, the USUN Mission’s political coordinator, told the UN Security Council during its meeting that twelve years after the council imposed an arms embargo “it is unacceptable that Hezbollah continues to flout this embargo, Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the will of the majority of Lebanese people.”

The centerpiece of UNIFIL’s mandate is UNSC Resolution 1701, which limits the flow of arms into the southern region of Lebanon, provides for routine meetings between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) brokered by UNIFIL (the only direct contact between Lebanon and Israel), calls for disarming the area south of the Litani River, and assists the LAF forces in providing security throughout south Lebanon.

Following a visit with UNIFIL in its Beirut office in July, we heard a different story about claims of Hezbollah’s armed infiltration in southern Lebanon from those expressed during the UN renewal. Our UNIFIL briefer said that it conducts 14,000 patrols a month with fully deployed Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) using its 10,000-person force drawn from more than 40 countries. They state that they have not found any strategic weapons or large arms caches in the geographical area of their mandate or border infractions, other than hunters with rifles and reports of shepherds in the area.

Statements that don’t distinguish between UNIFIL’s work along Israel’s border versus concerns with Hezbollah action in other parts of Lebanon can be misleading or worse, lead to a new conflict. Recognizing the potential for misunderstanding, the UN urged “all parties” to exercise “maximum calm and restraint and refrain from any action or rhetoric that could jeopardize the cessation of hostilities or destabilize the region.”

It is time for the Administration and Congress to make its own assessment in southern Lebanon. Congress and the Administration should conduct visits in the UNIFIL mandated area and fully assess actions on the ground with the objective to clarify and strengthen UNIFIL’s mandate and its support of the LAF. It must also distinguish between the actions of the UN and LAF in the south, under the UNIFIL mandate, from potential concerns in other parts of Lebanon. A clear assessment by the US, including accepting an invitation by UNIFIL to overfly suspected weapons, should be part of that assessment.

US military assistance is critical for the Lebanese Armed Forces growing role in the south in line with Resolution 1701; and efforts to undermine that bilateral relationship between the US and Lebanon only play into the hands of Russia, which has increased its pressure for a bilateral security relationship with Lebanon, something Lebanon has resisted to date.

Although not perfect, it appears that progress with the LAF and UNIFIL mandate is being made. Now is the time for the US to examine the situation with firsthand knowledge in order to advance US objectives in southern Lebanon, strengthen the LAF in its mission throughout the country and protect Lebanon’s territorial integrity from terrorism and outside interference.

UNIFIL Mandate Renewed Amid Continuing Concerns and Qualified Support from Security Council

Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001) and Jean AbiNader

On August 30th the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a year. UN Security Council members expressed serious concerns, according to VOANews.com, “that violations of the cease-fire agreement between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new conflict and urged international support for Lebanon’s armed forces and their stepped up deployment in the south and at sea.”

Rodney Hunter, the USUN Mission’s political coordinator, told the UN Security Council during its meeting that twelve years after the council imposed an arms embargo “it is unacceptable that Hezbollah continues to flout this embargo, Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the will of the majority of Lebanese people.”

The centerpiece of UNIFIL’s mandate is UNSC Resolution 1701, which limits the flow of arms into the southern region of Lebanon, provides for routine meetings between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) brokered by UNIFIL (the only direct contact between Lebanon and Israel), calls for disarming the area south of the Litani River, and assists the LAF forces in providing security throughout south Lebanon.

Following a visit with UNIFIL in its Beirut office in July, we heard a different story about claims of Hezbollah’s armed infiltration in southern Lebanon from those expressed during the UN renewal. Our UNIFIL briefer said that it conducts 14,000 patrols a month with fully deployed Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) using its 10,000-person force drawn from more than 40 countries. They state that they have not found any strategic weapons or large arms caches in the geographical area of their mandate or border infractions, other than hunters with rifles and reports of shepherds in the area.

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Statements that don’t distinguish between UNIFIL’s work along Israel’s border versus concerns with Hezbollah action in other parts of Lebanon can be misleading or worse, lead to a new conflict.  Recognizing the potential for misunderstanding, the UN urged “all parties” to exercise “maximum calm and restraint and refrain from any action or rhetoric that could jeopardize the cessation of hostilities or destabilize the region.”

It is time for the Administration and Congress to make its own assessment in southern Lebanon. Congress and the Administration should conduct visits in the UNIFIL mandated area and fully assess actions on the ground with the objective to clarify and strengthen UNIFIL’s mandate and its support of the LAF.  It must also distinguish between the actions of the UN and LAF in the south, under the UNIFIL mandate, from potential concerns in other parts of Lebanon. A clear assessment by the US, including accepting an invitation by UNIFIL to overfly suspected weapons, should be part of that assessment.

US military assistance is critical for the Lebanese Armed Forces growing role in the south in line with Resolution 1701; and efforts to undermine that bilateral relationship between the US and Lebanon only play into the hands of Russia, which has increased its pressure for a bilateral security relationship with Lebanon, something Lebanon has resisted to date.

Although not perfect, it appears that progress with the LAF and UNIFIL mandate is being made. Now is the time for the US to examine the situation with firsthand knowledge in order to advance US objectives in southern Lebanon, strengthen the LAF in its mission throughout the country and protect Lebanon’s territorial integrity from terrorism and outside interference.

Edward M. Gabriel is the former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, currently President of the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) and a member of the Council of American Ambassadors. Jean AbiNader is a senior adviser to ATFL.