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Timing is everything, as US designates Green Without Borders a terror group

Foggy Bottom’s announcement about the NGO came at a sensitive time, with the U.N. Security Council debating operation terms for the peacekeeping force meant to keep Hezbollah in check.

The IDF and UNIFIL coordinate activity on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Credit: IDF.
The IDF and UNIFIL coordinate activity on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Credit: IDF.

Israeli military and diplomatic officials have been screaming from the rooftops for some time about a Lebanese NGO serving as a Hezbollah front. The U.S. Treasury Department finally sanctioned Green Without Borders and its leader on Wednesday.

Why now? The answer has a lot to do with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, whose mandate the United Nations Security Council is currently discussing renewing.

The 10,500-troop, international peacekeeping mission purportedly monitors the de-facto border between Israel and Lebanon, known as the “Blue Line.” The Iran-backed, internationally-designated terror group Hezbollah controls the terrain.

UNIFIL’s mandate expires at the end of this month. Provisions were added in last year’s renewal to give the force’s troops more freedom of operation to monitor the border and to coordinate less in advance with the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to be the military sovereign in the area. But UNIFIL has not taken advantage of those changes and still enforces fecklessly Hezbollah’s numerous violations of Security Council resolutions and its string of provocations this year, Israel has said. 

The Lebanese government wants last year’s amendments rescinded, which Israel says would again give Hezbollah advance notice of UNIFIL’s movements, allowing it to deny peacekeeping troops important access. That ultimately could harm Israel and its military, Israel has said.

Green Without Borders is a purported environmental activist group, which claims it protects green areas and plants trees. Israel has long claimed—with documented evidence—that Green Without Borders established more than a dozen outposts along the Israel-Lebanon border, which Hezbollah operatives man. Those outposts allegedly give Hezbollah strategic monitoring positions and serve as cover for warehouses and munitions storage tunnels, while its staff impedes UNIFIL’s movements.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department finally took action, designating Green Without Borders and its leader, Zuhair Subhi Nahla, as terrorists. Under Nahla’s leadership, the purported environmental group “has functioned as a cover for Hezbollah’s terrorist activities,” the State Department stated. 

“We are taking this action as part of our efforts to prevent and disrupt financial and other support for terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Israel and around the world,” it added.

An Israeli diplomatic source told JNS that there was no correlation between the State Department’s announcement and an Israeli delegation, of officials from the Israel Defense Forces and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that was in New York this week to the UNIFIL renewal and tensions with lebanon with Security Council ambassadors.

Washington designated Green Without Borders now, “because it was thought that it might contribute to the discussion” going on in the Security Council’s chambers, the source told JNS.

Israel and the United States can now point to Green Without Borders as an example of why the language of last year’s mandate needs to remain in place so UNIFIL can carry out its mission properly.

Lior Haiat, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, thanked the United States for “revealing the true identity” of Green Without Borders, and told JNS that he calls on the international community to declare the group a terrorist organization. 

“The U.N. and UNIFIL have the duty to report the organization’s defiant activity as illegal and contrary” to Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the full disarmament of all groups in Lebanon other than the Lebanese Army, as part of an effort to resolve the 2006 Lebanon War, Haiat said.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, drew a direct line from Wednesday’s announcement to the UNIFIL debate. “In light of today’s welcomed step by the U.S., the Security Council must follow suit,” he wrote in a letter, which was provided to JNS.

The Security Council must address Green Without Borders as an arm of Hezbollah in the mandate renewal and “demand that the government of Lebanon immediately remove all military compounds built by Hezbollah under the guise of Green Without Borders along the Blue Line,” Erdan wrote.

He added that the Lebanese government “must be held accountable for what occurs on its territory.”

The Security Council met on Tuesday with representatives from the 48 member states that contribute troops to UNIFIL. On Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, head of mission and force commander at UNIFIL, chaired a tripartite meeting with senior IDF, Lebanese Army officers at a U.N. position in Ras al-Naqoura.

Lázaro “expressed his concern over a series of incidents along the Blue Line in recent months which have increased tension” and “appealed for engagement in Blue Line talks to address outstanding issues highlighting the importance of positive signals by both parties ahead of the Security Council consideration of UNIFIL’s mandate renewal,” according to UNIFIL. 

The Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on UNIFIL next Wednesday, ahead of a planned Aug. 30 vote on a French-drafted mandate renewal. The draft could still go through multiple changes, as other members of the council negotiate.

Council observers are keeping a close watch on Russia, which has partnered with Iran in a marriage of convenience. The Islamic Republic has provided Moscow with deadly drones, which Russia used in its invasion of Ukraine. Russia may be looking to return the favor to Tehran by trying to force language into the UNIFIL renewal that is favorable to Hezbollah, which serves as an Iranian terror proxy.

U.N. leadership apparently is leaving the matter fully in the Security Council’s hands. Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, told JNS earlier this week that Guterres would not meet with the Israeli delegation visiting New York nor with a Lebanese delegation arriving to discuss the same matters. 

The secretary-general is out of town, and Dujarric said no remote conversation was on the U.N. chief’s schedule. 

“This doesn’t change the importance that we’ve invested in the work of UNIFIL, in the need for the mandate to be renewed as the secretary-general has recommended,” Dujarric told JNS. 

“I think UNIFIL plays a critical role along the Blue Line and as a stabilizing factor between Israel and Lebanon,” Dujarric added. “Obviously, as with any peacekeeping mission, the renewal of the mandate is in the hands of the 15 members of the Security Council.”

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