Haley Targets UN Peacekeeping Mission Which Israel Views as Soft on Hezbollah

By Patrick Goodenough | August 8, 2017 | 12:53 AM EDT

UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon. (Photo: UNIFIL)

(CNSNews.com) – For 13 years, U.N. Security Council resolutions have been violated daily by the existence and activities – often under the noses of U.N. peacekeepers – of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. But now President Trump’s ambassador to the world body wants that to change.

Ambassador Nikki Haley is using the upcoming annual renewal of the peacekeeping mission’s mandate as an opportunity to strengthen its ability to prevent the spread of weapons in southern Lebanon, and “increase its capacity and commitment” to investigate and report on violations.

She said in a statement Monday the U.S. would seek “significant improvements” to the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) when it comes up for renewal on August 31.

“We share the [U.N.] secretary-general’s strong desire to enhance UNIFIL’s efforts to prevent the spread of illegal arms in southern Lebanon,” Haley said.

“These arms – which are almost entirely in the hands of Hezbollah terrorists – threaten the security and stability of the region. UNIFIL must increase its capacity and commitment to investigating and reporting these violations,” she said.

“The United States will continue to raise the threat posed by Hezbollah as we seek significant improvements to UNIFIL when the Security Council renews its mandate this month.”

UNIFIL’s mandate comes up for renewal almost 40 years after the “interim” body was established to confirm the Israeli military’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, help the Lebanese government to restore its effective authority in the area, and “restore international peace and security.”

After Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006, the mandate was expanded to monitor a ceasefire and, among other things, help the Lebanese army to establish in southern Lebanon “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

That 2006 mandate extension was contained in a Security Council resolution (1701) which demanded “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”

Another resolution two years earlier (1559) had called for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”

Instead, Hezbollah has thrived, strengthened its grip on the area, and rearmed – with the help of Iran and the Assad regime – in preparation for an often-threatened “next war” against the reviled “Zionist entity.” Israel maintains it has amassed an arsenal of 100,000 rockets.

U.N. secretary-general António Guterres is also on record as wanting to tackle the problem.

In a letter to the Security Council on Friday, recommending the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, Guterres called for the disarmament of all non-state armed groups and indicated he intends to look for ways to enhance UNIFIL’s efforts against their illegal presence.

In his most recent periodic report on the situation in the area, presented to the Security Council last month, Guterres “note[d] with grave concern the highly provocative presence of uniformed and armed [Hezbollah] combatants” during a media tour organized by the terrorist group in UNIFIL’s deployment zone last April.

He said that incident, and public statements by Hezbollah about its possession of weapons outside the control of the state, both contravene resolution 1701 and “warrant strong condemnation”

(The report also noted Israeli overflight of Lebanese territory, and said that was a violation of the resolution.)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley gets a briefing from an Israeli military officer along the Israel-Lebanon border on June 8, 2017 (Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv/David Azagury)

Peacekeeping budget halved

U.S. taxpayers account for almost 28.5 percent of the total U.N. peacekeeping budget.

Since taking up her post in New York Haley has made it clear that U.S. contributions for peacekeeping are in the administration’s crosshairs. It proposed budget for FY 2018 includes $1.196 billion for peacekeeping, a substantial drop from the FY 2017 estimate of $2.45 billion.

UNIFIL currently comprises some 10,400 military personnel from 40 countries, as well as around 800 international and Lebanese civilian staff. Its budget for the 2016-2017 period is $488.6 million.

The mission was established in 1978 to oversee an Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanese territory.

(Israel sent in the army after years of cross-border terror attacks by the Lebanon-based PLO culminated in an assault that cost the lives of 38 Israeli civilians, 13 of them children. After Israel’s withdrawal PLO shelling of northern Israel continued until a second Israeli invasion in 1982 led ultimately to the PLO’s expulsion from Lebanon.)

Hezbollah, formed after the 1979 Iranian revolution, has proven to be a deadlier and more determined enemy.

Israel has had a combative relationship with UNIFIL over the years, criticizing the peacekeeping mission for allowing Hezbollah to operate freely in the area, and also complaining that UNIFIL reports of ceasefire violations have treated the Israeli army and Hezbollah as equivalent parties to the conflict.

During a visit to the border area last June, Haley reportedly witnessed a heated exchange between an Israeli military officer and UNIFIL’s commander after the latter had informed the American ambassador that the border area was calm and no changes were needed.

According to an Israeli television account, the Israeli officer charged that UNIFIL was afraid of going into villages in southern Lebanon to confront Hezbollah, and then urged Haley to work on changing UNIFIL’s mandate to empower it to disarm the terrorists.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow