What happened: United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) are unable to carry out their mission in Hezbollah controlled areas. Guterres emphasised the: “Growing danger presented by armed groups operating outside of the Lebanese government’s control” in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. He added: “The Lebanese government must take the necessary steps to disarm Hezbollah and other groups in southern Lebanon.”
- The report examined four months of incidents, including on 1 September when Hezbollah fired 3 anti-tank missiles into Israel, narrowly missing an IDF vehicle. The report said Israel doubled its aerial activity over Lebanon from July to October with 787 recorded violations with drone activity accounting for 91 per cent of the violations. Guterres said: “I reiterate my condemnation of all violations of Lebanese sovereignty and my calls for Israel to cease its violations of Lebanese airspace.”
- Guterres criticised Hezbollah for building underground tunnels into Israel saying: “I urge the Lebanese Armed Forces to expeditiously undertake and conclude all necessary investigations regarding the tunnels on the Lebanese side, and to take preventive measures against similar occurrences in the future.” He added that: “No progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups. Hezbollah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains precision missiles and other military capabilities.”
- Guterres called on the Lebanese Armed Forces: “To ensure that the area along the Blue Line remains free of unauthorised weapons and is not used for hostile activities,” and reiterated his call for “calm and restraint” by all parties along Israel’s northern border.
Context: Earlier this week the UN Security Council, currently chaired by the UK, discussed recent tension on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
- Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said: “Hezbollah is an explosive barrel in Lebanon’s belly, and the Security Council must commit itself to recognising it as a terrorist organisation, and thus begin to restore stability to the region.”
- In February the UK government proscribed the whole of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, bringing UK law into line with the US, Canada, Israel and the Arab League. The UK first banned what was then described as Hezbollah’s “terrorist wing” in 2001, and its “military wing” followed in 2008 after the group targeted British soldiers in Iraq.
- Earlier this month Israel asked the US to condition financial aid to Lebanon’s army on efforts to dismantle Hezbollah’s military capacity and their attempt to acquire precision-guided missiles. A senior US State Department official said: “We consider the funding of the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] to be a good investment. Of course we listen to our ally Israel and we will take their request under consideration.” Since 2006, the US has provided more than $2 billion in bilateral foreign assistance to Lebanon. Currently, the country receives $105 million per year.
- Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz yesterday responded to the UN report saying: “I urge the UN Secretary General and the Security Council to fully implement all relevant Security Council resolutions on Lebanon and disarm Hezbollah. In addition, the UN should declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation because of its involvement in terrorist activities against Israel and countries in the region.”
Looking ahead: The call by the UN Secretary General for the Lebanese Armed Forces to disarm Hezbollah is highly significant and illustrates deep frustration with the situation in Lebanon and the inability of UNIFIL to properly fulfil its obligations under UNSC 1701. That said, UNIFIL is unlikely to step up its activities and put its forces at risk by limiting Hezbollah’s freedom to operate and the Lebanese Armed Forces are also highly unlikely to take any action at all, especially in light of the fragile political situation in Lebanon. This was after all the week when Hezbollah and Amal personnel fired automatic weapons and RPG’s at street protestors.
- Israel remains on high alert across the borders with both Lebanon and Syria. Israel has continued to carry out strikes against Iranian forces and allied militias in Syria and Israeli military intelligence expects Iran to act in retaliation at some point in the near future.