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August 9, 2018 2:09 pm

Attack on UNIFIL Patrol Embodies Challenge Facing New Force Commander in Lebanon, Israeli Expert Says

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The UN vehicle attacked in southern Lebanon on Aug. 4. Photo: Provided.

The attack last weekend on a United Nations patrol in a Hezbollah-controlled area of southern Lebanon exemplifies the difficulties facing the newly-appointed commander of UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, according to a leading Israeli strategic expert.

UNIFIL’s new commander, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col of Italy, faces the uphill task of “restoring the force’s credibility and deterrence,” Ron Prosor — head of the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy, IDC Herzliya — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

A former Israeli ambassador in London and at the UN in New York, Prosor said that Saturday’s attack was a pertinent reminder to Maj. Gen. Del Col to take all necessary measures “to ensure that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said in a statement about Saturday’s incident that a number of Lebanese civilians had impeded the patrol near the town of Majdal Zoun.

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“There were no injuries to UN peacekeepers, but there was damage to UNIFIL vehicles and equipment,” Tenenti said. “An investigation has been launched by UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to uncover the circumstances of the incident.”

Photographs of the damage shared with The Algemeiner showed a badly-burned UN armored vehicle with its windows smashed.

Prosor said that Del Col could now enforce UNIFIL’s mandate — which includes the disarming of paramilitaries like Hezbollah — with minimal risk to the force’s 10,000 peacekeepers, who are drawn from the militaries of 41 UN member states.

“Use the tools the force already has, like drones that can monitor Hezbollah’s activities and relay the footage to control rooms around the world, with almost zero risk for troops on the ground,” Prosor said.

Meanwhile, Del Col continued a two-day visit to Beirut on Thursday, meeting with senior Lebanese leaders, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. The new UNIFIL commander also held talks with the influential speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, a key Hezbollah ally.

Earlier this week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, described UNIFIL “as an important force, with more than 10,000 soldiers.” Del Col’s appointment presented “a new opportunity,” Danon said in a statement on Tuesday, “to push back against the blatant, unauthorized arms buildup of Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, in southern Lebanon.”

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