US's Haley: UNIFIL is supposed to prevent another war

Israel envoy hails ‘victory’ as UN expands Lebanon peacekeeping role

UNIFIL given widened powers after US and Israeli called for it to do more to tackle Hezbollah arms buildup

A UNIFIL patrol near the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Hamad Almakt/Flash90)
A UNIFIL patrol near the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Hamad Almakt/Flash90)

The United Nations extended the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon Wednesday night, and gave its forces widened powers to address Hezbollah’s weapons buildup in the area.

As a result of the changes, which were approved by the UN Security Council, UNIFIL will increase its oversight activities in southern Lebanon, including by entering villages where the Hezbollah terror group operates.

The resolution highlights that UNIFIL has the authority to “take all necessary actions” in areas where its forces are deployed and must ensure that its area of operations is “not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed the decision, saying in a statement that “the resolution requires UNIFIL to open its eyes, and forces it to act against Hezbollah’s terror buildup in the area.”

He described the resolution as “a victory for Israel.”

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon addressing the UN Security Council with Oran Almog sitting behind him. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias via Israel’s mission to the UN)

The resolution came following complaints from Israel over the international body’s failure prevent Hezbollah from gaining strength.

France, a key player on the Security Council, argued that UNIFIL had succeeded in maintaining calm in south Lebanon, but the United States pushed for action by the mission against Hezbollah, which it accuses of stockpiling weapons and readying for war.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is seen at a UN Security Council meeting on August 29, 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is seen at a UN Security Council meeting on August 29, 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

“Conditions in south Lebanon are very dangerous today. The clouds of war are gathering,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote. “UNIFIL exists to help prevent war from happening again and it is supposed to do that.”

The resolution also requests that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres look at ways to increase UNIFIL’s visible presence, through patrols and inspections, but within its existing mandate.

“UNIFIL can, of course, do better and do more,” said French Deputy Ambassador Anne Gueguen, but she stressed that the force was indeed keeping the peace. “No one in this council can imagine for one second the environment that would exist there without UNIFIL.”

Rejecting the demands from the US and Israel for UNIFIL’s mission to be expanded, Lebanon had called for the peacekeeping force’s mandate to be renewed without changes.

Responding to the Wednesday vote, indeed, the Lebanese mission to the UN tweeted that the mandate had been extended “without changing.”

Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, tasked with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarized zone on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

It now has 10,500 troops on the ground monitoring the ceasefire and helping the Lebanese government secure its borders.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, the prime minister accused the international body of failing to prevent arms from being smuggled to  Hezbollah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcoming UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017. (GPO)

Netanyahu also claimed that Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon for the manufacture of “precision-guided missiles,” with the aim of deploying them against Israel.

Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed President Bashar Assad’s government forces in the civil war that has ravaged Syria.

“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”

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