How UNIFIL Can Still Succeed in Lebanon
There is a growing risk of war along the Israeli-Lebanese border. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has failed to disarm Hezbollah, forcing Israel to expand its operations to counter the group. Recent changes to UNIFIL’s mandate are productive first steps at holding Hezbollah accountable, but greater pressure will be necessary to de-escalate the situation.
In August, the UN Security Council voted to renew UNIFIL’s mandate, and Hezbollah launched an attack on UNIFIL peacekeepers. Soon after, on August 24, the IDF struck an Iranian-controlled base in Syria and launched a drone attack into Beirut. Hezbollah responded by firing an anti-tank missile at an IDF military jeep and base. Israel responded by firing back roughly 100 artillery shells and other munitions at Hezbollah targets.
Since the 2006 Lebanon War, UNIFIL has proven incapable of enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for all armed militias in southern Lebanon to disarm. Hezbollah continues to operate freely in the area. Under UNIFIL’s watch, Hezbollah has grown its missile arsenal from 10,000 rockets in 2006 to roughly 120,000 rockets and dozens of precision missiles today, which it hides amongst the Lebanese civilian population. UNIFIL has previously argued that it lacks the legal authority to search for weapons on private property. Israel recently discovered a network of tunnels from southern Lebanon into Israel, despite UNIFIL’s claims that none existed.
UNIFIL’s mission to provide an independent peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Lebanese border has never been more important. The next conflict in Lebanon would likely create unprecedented casualties and destruction. If an extended war occurs, Hezbollah may seek to overwhelm Israel’s missile defense system by firing two to four thousand rockets per day, while launching small raids across the border into Israel. To defend itself, Israel must be prepared to conduct preemptive strikes against Hezbollah targets.
We have seen some progress at the UN, where the Security Council has made a small but noteworthy improvement to UNIFIL’s authorization that demands that Lebanon allow UNFIL to fully execute its mandate.
The new resolution directs the Lebanese government to allow UNIFIL increased physical access to report on weapon transfers to known terrorists. This should serve as a deterrent to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), whose troops often impede UNIFIL movements and investigations of Hezbollah activities.
Additionally, the UN Secretary-General will provide an assessment on UNIFIL’s performance by June 1, 2020, and issue a report at least every four months about any violations of Resolution 1701 or UNIFIL’s freedom of movement within Lebanon. UNIFIL’s new mandate adds additional requirements for UNIFIL to justify its budget, force size, and ability to accomplish its mission.
Hezbollah remains a powerful domestic force in Lebanon. The Lebanese government and military may continue to thwart UNIFIL’s mandate, and must be held accountable.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri recently argued that “Hezbollah is not a Lebanese problem, only — it is a regional problem.” But the region cannot solve this problem if Lebanese institutions continue to turn a blind eye to Hezbollah’s aggressive activities and restrict UNFIL’s ability to accomplish its mandate.
The US should exert greater pressure on the Lebanese government and its armed forces to ensure that they comply with Security Council resolutions and allow UNIFIL freedom of movement. This pressure could include limiting military equipment that it provides to the LAF, review of any arms sales to Lebanon, and joint military training activities.
The US can bolster UNIFIL’s mission by continuing to impose robust sanctions against Hezbollah and designate Hezbollah members and those who aid the group. The US should also sanction those who impede UNIFIL freedom of operations in Lebanon, as these actions indirectly aid Hezbollah. If the Lebanese government or military continues to obstruct UNIFIL, the Security Council could bypass them entirely by directing UNIFIL to act unilaterally when it wants to investigate Hezbollah’s illegal infrastructure.
If after these reforms UNIFIL remains unwilling or unable to investigate Hezbollah activity, the UN Security Council should reconsider the force’s utility. In its place, the Security Council could replace the peacekeeping force with a more aggressive multinational force designed to proactively move against Hezbollah’s entrenched position in southern Lebanon.
For now, the international community remains largely committed to UNIFIL and it is therefore the best option for disarming Hezbollah. The UN Security Council’s recent renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate makes it clear that continued failures to remove Hezbollah from southern Lebanon are unacceptable. It is now time for UNIFIL to accomplish its mandate and reduce the possibilities of future conflict.
LtGen. (ret.) Kenneth Glueck is former commander, US Marine Corps Combat Development Command and a member of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA)’s Hybrid Warfare Policy Project. General Frank J. Grass, USA (ret.) was the 27th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a program participant of JINSA’s 2019 Generals and Admirals Program. He serves as a Senior Mentor for the United States Army. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or US Government.