The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon on Monday rejected claims made by the Israeli military that the Hezbollah terrorist group was violating a UN Security Council resolution by surreptitiously setting up observation posts along the border with Israel.
Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces accused Hezbollah of using the environmental “Green Without Borders” non-governmental organization as a front for its military activities. The army said the Iran-backed Hezbollah was using observation posts along the border to gather intelligence on Israeli military and civilian targets, while posing as members of the environmental group.
The spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Andrea Tenenti, said the peacekeeping force was aware of the IDF’s claims and had inspected the areas indicated by the IDF.
“UNIFIL in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces closely monitors all activities close to the Blue Line, including sites of the NGO,” Tenenti told The Times of Israel in a message.
“UNIFIL has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the locations or found any basis to report a violation of resolution 1701 but continues to monitor activities closely,” he said, referring to the resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
UNIFIL is tasked with enforcing the UN resolution. Israel has long criticized what it considers to be the peacekeeping force’s failure to disarm or meaningfully challenge Hezbollah, which the IDF sees as one of its primary threats in the region.
The IDF made similar claims against Hezbollah reconnaissance activities in June 2017, identifying five observation posts owned by the non-governmental organization, which the army said were actually being used to carry out intelligence and reconnaissance work for the Iran-backed terror group.
“Now we are revealing a new position,” a senior official from the IDF Northern Command told reporters Monday.
The alleged sixth Hezbollah observation post was located in the Lebanese town of Aadaysit Marjaayoun, less than a kilometer from the border and from the Israeli community of Misgav Am, according to the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We see them gathering intelligence on Israeli activities,” the official told reporters.
The officer said the military believed that Hezbollah was using that information in order to prepare to commit attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets.
“We expect UNIFIL to surveil these positions and visit them. Until now, they haven’t done so,” he said.
According to the IDF, the alleged Hezbollah positions represent a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for armed groups besides the official Lebanese military and UNIFIL to remain north of Lebanon’s Litani River.
However, the official acknowledged that the IDF has not seen any arms inside the observation post — “at least not visible arms,” he said.
“But we can see military equipment and infrastructure,” the official added.
The IDF officer said the men were routinely seen watching Israel through powerful military-grade binoculars and taking photographs with expensive cameras.
Despite Resolution 1701 referring specifically to “armed forces,” the IDF officer said Hezbollah’s actions in the area nevertheless represented a violation as they amounted to forbidden military activities.
Last year, the United Nations also rejected Israel’s claim that Hezbollah was using the NGO as a front for its activities.
Then too, UNIFIL said 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.”
In an apparent threat, the IDF said it was “constantly tracking the Hezbollah organization’s activities, as has been proven recently. It is aware of these activities and other activities as well.”
The “Green Without Borders” NGO is nominally an environmental group dedicated to maintaining Lebanon’s forests.
“But the people manning this position are watching the IDF and Misgav Am,” the senior officer said. “They are not interested in planting trees.”
Asked why the IDF was not taking direct action against this alleged Hezbollah post, the officer said it was because Israel was committed to upholding Resolution 1701.
“But of course this buildup is something we cannot tolerate. This is why we expect the Lebanese and UNIFIL to act against this,” the officer said.
The official said Hezbollah’s reconnaissance activities along the border represent a “small part” of its activities south of the Litani River, noting that Israel believes the group maintains a large stockpile of short- and medium-range rockets in southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah has significantly built up its weapons stockpile since the 2006 war and has upgraded its arsenal to between 100,000 and 150,000 mortar shells, rockets and missiles, Israeli officials say. The IDF also believes the terror group is working now to upgrade that arsenal and turn its current lot of simple rockets into precise munitions.
Israel fears that some advanced surface-to-sea and anti-aircraft weapons systems have reached Hezbollah from Iran as well.
Earlier this month, the Israeli military completed construction of a 13-kilometer section of a concrete-and-steel barrier along the so-called “Blue Line,” which serves as a border between Israel and Lebanon.