UN warns of fresh Israel-Lebanon war as peacekeeping mandate renewed

Resolution fails to mention Hezbollah by name, even as US says terror group has grown its arsenal and flaunts the ceasefire agreement

UN peacekeepers parade during a ceremony to mark the transfer of authority between the outgoing and the newly appointed head of the mission at the UNIFIL headquarters in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, Lebanon, Aug. 7, 2018. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
UN peacekeepers parade during a ceremony to mark the transfer of authority between the outgoing and the newly appointed head of the mission at the UNIFIL headquarters in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, Lebanon, Aug. 7, 2018. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council warned Thursday that violations of the ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel could lead to a new conflict and urged international support for Lebanon’s armed forces and their stepped up deployment in the south and at sea.

The council’s warning against “a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford” came in a resolution adopted unanimously extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon known as UNIFIL until August 31, 2019.

Council members urged “all parties” to exercise “maximum calm and restraint and refrain from any action or rhetoric that could jeopardize the cessation of hostilities or destabilize the region.”

UNIFIL was originally created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after a 1978 invasion. The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah so that peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border, to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades.

The French-drafted resolution again urged all countries to enforce a 2006 arms embargo and prevent the sale or supply of weapons to any individual or entity in Lebanon not authorized by the government or UN force known as UNIFIL — an implicit criticism of the suppliers of weapons to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed terror group.

Spanish UN peacekeepers patrol in the disputed Shebaa Farms area between Lebanon and Israel, overlooking the divided border village of Ghajar, southeast Lebanon, Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015. (AP /Hussein Malla)

But the text adopted by the Council does not mention Hezbollah by name, despite US demands.

“All states shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using flag vessels or aircraft, the sale or supply of arms and related materiel to any entity or individual in Lebanon other than those authorized by the Government of Lebanon or UNIFIL,” the resolution states.

A Hezbollah fighter is seen standing at attention in an orange field near the town of Naqura on the Lebanese-Israeli border on April 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

Rodney Hunter, the US Mission’s political coordinator, told the council that Hezbollah, with Iran’s help, “has grown its arsenal in Lebanon in direct threat to peace” along the boundary with Israel “and the stability of all of Lebanon.”

Hunter said 12 years after the council imposed an arms embargo, “it is unacceptable that Hezbollah continues to flout this embargo, Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the will of the majority of Lebanese people.”

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war and the resolution reiterates the council’s call for Israel and Lebanon “to support a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution.”

The council also stressed “the necessity of an effective and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon and the territorial waters of Lebanon at an accelerated pace.”

It called for UNIFIL, which has more than 10,000 troops deployed in southern Lebanon, and the Lebanese military to analyze the country’s ground forces and maritime assets.

Lebanese army soldiers rappel down from a helicopter onto the deck of the Brazilian warship UNIAO, part of the UNIFIL Maritime force, during a joint training exercise to prevent the smuggling of illegal material, off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The council also called for the Lebanese government “to develop a plan to increase its naval capabilities … with the goal of ultimately decreasing UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force and transitioning its responsibilities to the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

A US diplomat said the aim of shrinking the UN maritime force, which consists of half a dozen military ships equipped with weapons and radar, was to cut the UNIFIL mission costs.

Israel’s position on having an international naval force so close to its territory remains unclear.

France’s deputy UN ambassador Anne Gueguen stressed that “only the presence of the Lebanese state and its armed forces will ensure security … and create the conditions of lasting stability in the south of Lebanon, and along its territorial waters.”

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