UNIFIL Military Head Emphasizes Need for Progress in Implementing UNSCR 1701

Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

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.