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August 29, 2018 7:17 am

Why UNIFIL’s Existence Remains in Israel’s Interest

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

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Lebanese army soldiers take part in a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence in downtown Beirut, November 22, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Mohamed Azakir.

JNS.org – Many people in Israel believe that the United Nations Interim ‎Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is like the three wise monkeys at ‎the Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan: it sees no ‎evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil. This, they ‎claim, is the only way to explain the selective ‎blindness that the UN peacekeeping force has exercised when ‎it comes to Hezbollah’s actions in southern Lebanon ‎since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.‎

In the 12 years since then, the Shiite terrorist group ‎has turned the villages of southern Lebanon into ‎urban warfare compounds. Prior to the war, ‎Hezbollah operated mainly in open areas. Afterwards, the Iranian-backed group focused on developing its ‎infrastructure in the area’s towns and villages, ‎knowing that in times of war, ‎it would be relatively protected by the inherent ‎complexities of fighting in such a densely populated ‎area.‎

Israel, which monitors these developments closely, ‎was furious. Israeli intelligence about the scope of ‎Hezbollah’s operations was given to UNIFIL, as was ‎intelligence on the group’s top operatives ‎orchestrating these activities. ‎

UNIFIL did little to counter these developments, ‎especially over the past few years, under the ‎command of former UNIFIL chief Maj. Gen. Michael ‎Beary.‎

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Now, with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col leading the ‎‎international peacekeeping force, Israel hopes ‎‎things will change. Del Col ‎is unlikely to provoke ‎an overt ‎confrontation with Hezbollah, but he is ‎likely to help Israel neutralize potentially volatile ‎situations, so as to maintain Israel’s principal ‎interest in the northern sector: peace and quiet.‎

This is why UNIFIL’s existence is, in fact, in ‎Israel’s best interest: While UN troops may hinder ‎the IDF’s operations in times of war, for the most ‎part, UNIFIL is an efficient mechanism and a ‎vital liaison to the Lebanese government — and through ‎it, to the Lebanese army.‎

This is also why Israel supports keeping the ‎United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the ‎Golan Heights border with Syria.‎

Given the uncertainty on this front, now ‎that Syrian President Bashar Assad has regained ‎control of the area — and especially given Iran’s ‎attempts to entrench itself militarily in southern ‎Syria — UNDOF’s presence can be a calming ‎factor to allow for communications, albeit ‎indirect, with Damascus. ‎

It is highly doubtful that UN peacekeeping troops ‎can actually bring peace, and it is equally doubtful ‎that they would be able to prevent war in the event of a ‎wide-scale escalation in the northern sector, but ‎they can ‎certainly be effective in ‎defusing tensions on both borders. ‎

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

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