The Israeli military and the Foreign Ministry on Friday hosted 12 foreign diplomats and ambassadors on a tour of the northern border, as Israel seeks to build international support for an expanded mandate for the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.
The UN Security Council renews the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, on an annual basis, with the next renewal set to take place at the end of August.
In a joint statement, the army and Foreign Ministry said the diplomats were given briefings by top military brass, including the commander of the division responsible for the Lebanese border, as well as officials responsible for ties with international forces. They also toured a tunnel dug beneath the border by the Hezbollah terror group for offensive purposes and uncovered during last year’s Operation Northern Shield.
The statement did not name the diplomats but said they came from countries with influence at the UN and those who contribute to the force. Among the diplomats on the tour were ambassadors from France, Italy and Ghana.
Currently, the force comprises members from 45 countries and is led by Major General Stefano del Col of Italy.
Israel has pointed to the six underground passages built by Hezbollah and destroyed by Israel during the month-long operation as proof that UNIFIL does not have the tools to effectively maintain peace along the border. It has urged the Security Council to demand access to all sites and freedom of movement in Southern Lebanon to allow it to ensure that Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and which calls for all armed groups outside the Lebanese military to be removed from southern Lebanon, is enforced.
“Full and effective implementation of the UNIFIL mandate is necessary to maintain regional stability and prevent Hezbollah from gaining strength in southern Lebanon,” said Avivit Bar-Ilan, bureau head in the Foreign Ministry’s UN and International Organizations Division. “We expect members of the Security Council to adopt a resolution that will allow the force to fulfill its mission without limitations.”
Brig. Gen. Shlomi Binder, commander of Division 91, also known as the Galilee Division, said: “Hezbollah’s terrorist army is present [at the border] and is working to destabilize the area.”
He added: “The international community must acknowledge the threat and act against it.”
The IDF conducted Operation Northern Shield between December 2018 and January 2019, in an effort to locate and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah into northern Israel from southern Lebanon. In total, the military said it found six such passages and rendered them inoperable — either using explosives or filling them with concrete — last year.
The IDF believes that the six tunnels were built with the specific purpose of allowing thousands of Hezbollah terrorists to stage an infiltration attack on military and civilian targets in northern Israel as a surprise opening maneuver in a future war.
The military credits the discovery and destruction of these tunnels with removing what otherwise would have been a potentially devastating weapon in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
In January of this year the Israel Defense Forces began installing a series of underground sensors along the northern border in order to detect any new subterranean tunnels being dug into Israeli territory from Lebanon.
Israel has fought two wars in Lebanon, one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorist groups, and another in 2006 against Hezbollah, as well as a number of smaller operations.
Though seen as volatile, the border has not seen significant fighting since the end of the 2006 war.