UNIFIL Mandate Renewed with LAF Support Provision

Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

The UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2591 extends the UNIFIL mandate for another full year, recounting its efforts to support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in ensuring security and stability between the Litani River and the southern boundary with Israel (the Blue Line).

It restated a number of points that illustrate the challenges to its mission. For example, the Resolution condemned the attacks on the UNIFIL and threats constraining its safety, freedom of movement, and access along the Blue Line. In that regard, the Council called on Lebanon to expedite its investigations into the attacks against UNIFIL and “bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice promptly.” A case brought in 1980 has only recently been settled by the Lebanese judiciary.

UNSCR 2591 also mentioned violations of the Blue Line by air (code for Israeli overflights) and land (code for Hezbollah and IDF excursions testing both sides), and called on all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities and fully cooperate with the UNIFIL. This is one of the core challenges to the UNIFIL’s capability to carry out its mission. It has not been granted permission by the Lebanese government to enter private property in pursuit of its investigations or probe the cross-border tunnels exposed by Israel two years ago. Additionally, Lebanese senior politicians have prohibited the LAF from various pursuits and arrests as in the case of the Hezbollah engineers captured by villagers in South Lebanon with rocket launchers, which were then returned and the men freed.

One would not be remiss in asking what role the UNIFIL can undertake under so many restraints.

The first defense of UNIFIL’s role is its relationship with the LAF which has endured for 15 years and raised the LAF’s profile as the most respected government institution in the country. A key element in this has been the regular tripartite meetings among the IDF and LAF, mediated by the UNIFIL, which have been a stabilizing factor in the region as the only forum between Lebanese and Israeli representatives. The UNSC encouraged the parties to expand these meetings in order to “resolve the conflict and build confidence.”

As a one-time measure, the UNSC asked the international community to take exceptional measures to support the Lebanese Armed Forces logistically and with non-lethal items (fuel, food, and medicine) for a period of six months, and within the limits of local resources. Putting support for the LAF on the agenda of the international community is critical for its survival until Lebanon achieves some degree of normalcy.

The Resolution did not exempt Lebanon’s leadership from its critical language: “Strongly urging the Lebanese political leaders to form, without further delay and with a sense of urgency, a new Government which can respond to the needs and aspirations of the Lebanese population and the current main challenges Lebanon is facing, in particular the reconstruction of Beirut, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the implementation of reforms, which are absolutely necessary to overcome and recover from the current and unprecedented acute social, economic, and humanitarian crises, expressing grave concern about the obstacles to the political process and implementation of the necessary reforms, and calling on the Lebanese authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure the conduct of elections in 2022 according to the planned schedule…”

Finally, the UNSC made note of two enduring issues by calling on Israel “to expedite the withdrawal of its army from northern Ghajar without further delay in coordination with UNIFIL, which has actively engaged Israel and Lebanon to facilitate such a withdrawal; [and] Reaffirms its call on all States to fully support and respect the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River of an area free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL.” While resolving these points is clearly aspirational at this point, it is important to restate the basic mission of the UNIFIL in Lebanon.

One further note: it is past time for the UNSC to aggressively address the issue of smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border which continues to undermine and erode the Lebanese economy. Political forces on both sides are profiting from the pain of millions of Lebanese deprived of food, medications, and fuel that was subsidized in Lebanon and moved across the border where they are sold at a great profit.

The LAF is supposed to have responsibility for border security and the UNIFIL shares some of that role in the South, but the egregious behavior of the Lebanese political mafia in limiting the LAF’s freedom of action only deepens the trust deficit between the people and many in the leadership of the country.

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.