Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Saturday slammed the international body’s force patrolling the border with Lebanon, saying it was ignoring obvious Hezbollah operations in the area.
“It is unfortunate that UNIFIL has chosen to look the other way as Hezbollah continues to operate in the region,” Danny Danon said amid an ongoing argument between Israel and the UN over activities involving a purported environmental group at the border.
Israel alleges that they are a front for Hezbollah setting up observation posts along the frontier, but on Friday UNIFIL said the group Green Without Borders were just planting trees.
“This NGO is not protecting the environment, but is conducting reconnaissance activity along our border,” Danon said.”It is time for UNIFIL to fulfill its mandate and ensure that UN Security Council resolutions are implemented.”
Israel’s military intelligence chief on Thursday published photographs and film showing what he said were Hezbollah observation posts near the Israeli-Lebanese border set up purportedly on behalf of Green Without Borders.
But the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said Friday that while “Green Without Borders” members have planted trees in the area, it “has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the locations or found any basis to report a violation of resolution 1701.”
UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said UNIFIL remains in contact with Lebanese armed forces on monitoring the border to ensure there are no violations “and to avoid any misunderstandings or tensions that could endanger the cessation of hostilities.”
She said “UNIFIL remains vigilant and continues to monitor the Blue Line,” the UN-drawn boundary between Lebanon and Israel.
In a letter to the UN Security Council on Thursday, Danon pointed to an incident in April, in which a UNIFIL patrol was denied access by a group of locals to an observation post flying a Green Without Borders flag.
Hezbollah’s purported use of such facilities under cover of the NGO is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006.
Danon denounced the “dangerous provocation” and called on the council to demand the Lebanese government dismantle the Hezbollah outposts, as required by the resolution.
UNIFIL is an international force created by the Security Council in March 1978 to maintain quiet along the border between Israel and Lebanon. Since the 2006 war, the force has also been charged with monitoring the cessation of hostilities between the two countries, supporting Lebanese troops deployed in the south of the country, and ensuring humanitarian access to civilians in the region.
The 15,000-strong UN force is also charged with ensuring “the immediate cessation” of attacks by Hezbollah, and of ensuring “the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.”
Israel has long criticized what it considers UNIFIL’s failure to disarm or meaningfully challenge Hezbollah, as required by its mandate.
Hezbollah has significantly built up its weapons stockpile since the 2006 war and has upgraded its arsenal to about 150,000 missiles, Israeli officials say. Israel also fears that some advanced surface-to-sea and anti-aircraft weapons systems have reached Hezbollah from Iran.
On Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel against attacking Lebanon or Syria, saying “hundreds of thousands” of Arab and Muslim fighters would be ready to strike back.
“The Israeli enemy should know that if it launches an attack on Syria or Lebanon, it’s unknown whether the fighting will stay just between Lebanon and Israel, or Syria and Israel,” he said in a speech to mark Jerusalem (Quds) Day, an annual show of solidarity with the Palestinians marked by marches and speeches that rail against Israel and the West.