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Erdan warns UN Security Council of ‘powder keg’ on cusp of Hezbollah ignition

The peacekeeping mission along the Israeli-Lebanese border is up for renewal this month under trying circumstances.

A view of houses along the Lebanese side of the border as seen from northern Israel, July 31, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
A view of houses along the Lebanese side of the border as seen from northern Israel, July 31, 2023. Photo by Ayal Margolin/Flash90.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan. Credit: Israeli Mission to the United Nations.

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations implored its Security Council to help clamp down on Hezbollah’s repeated provocations along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

“The Middle East is a powder keg on the cusp of being ignited” due to “Hezbollah’s violent escalations, blatant violations of Security Council resolutions and dangerous military advancements,” Gilad Erdan wrote late last week to the U.N. council.

The Iran-backed, Lebanese terror group Hezbollah controls Southern Lebanon. Security Council resolutions and pronouncements have called for Hezbollah to disarm, and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a largely toothless border peacekeeping force, is supposed to be monitoring its actions.

Since mid-July, Hezbollah operatives have been documented dismantling surveillance equipment on Israel’s border security fence after previously attempting to sabotage it. A group of 18, led by a Hezbollah-aligned member of the Lebanese parliament, infiltrated into Israeli territory before Israel Defense Forces warning shots chased them back across the border.

Hezbollah operatives also erected two tents south of the so-called Blue Line, a U.N. demarcation line that serves as an unofficial border and runs through several disputed areas. It has dismantled one tent but refuses to take the other one down. It has threatened Israel if Jerusalem takes reactive measures.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel on Aug. 1, calling it a “cancerous growth.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that “we are not impressed by Nasrallah’s bunker threats.”

In recent months, Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile towards Israel and allowed Hamas, another internationally designated terror group, to launch more than 30 rockets at Israel from Hezbollah-controlled territory.

Erdan cited the latter provocations as a “dangerous pattern” that is “leading the way towards outright conflict and the consequences of such a conflict will be disastrous for the entire region.”

“If the Security Council does not condemn Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities and demand that Lebanon takes action against the illegal military buildup within its territories—or at the very least, allow UNIFIL to be able to fully implement its mandate—the situation on the ground will continue to deteriorate and the consequences will be far-reaching and disastrous,” he wrote.

The UNIFIL mandate expires at the end of August, but its yearly renewal by the Security Council is virtually assured. Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah of preventing U.N. peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

Lebanon’s military tribunal charged five men on June 1 with the December 2022 killing of an Irish UNIFIL peacekeeper, Sean Rooney. All five are linked to Hezbollah. Rooney’s UNIFIL convoy came under attack near the town of Al-Aqbiya, a Hezbollah stronghold.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Credit: United States Mission to the United Nations.

‘We’re working on the resolution’

UNIFIL was established in 1978 to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. After the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the United Nations expanded the interim force’s mandate under Security Council Resolution 1701 to monitor the cessation of hostilities. It now serves as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel along the Blue Line, designated as a line of withdrawal. The two Middle Eastern countries remain technically at war.

The resolution also calls for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon and emphasizes the importance of full control of Lebanon by its government. The mission now has about 10,500 peacekeepers from nearly 50 troop-contributing countries, as per the UNIFIL website.

Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations, speaks during the installation ceremony on Jan. 5, 2022. Credit: U.N. Photo by Eskinder Debebe.

Last year’s renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate proved difficult with council members circulating at least five draft resolution texts. JNS sources familiar with the council’s work said at the time that the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom demanded that it include language citing Hezbollah activities explicitly. Such language was not adopted.

Lana Nusseibeh, the Emirates ambassador to the United Nations, told the council at the time that non-state groups maintaining weapons has “demonstrably been a grave threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and stability,” as well as to the region.

The United States holds the Security Council presidency this month.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield was asked on Tuesday if the UNIFIL mandate requires updating given recent incidents at the Israeli-Lebanese border.

“We are working on the resolution right now in the council, and we’ll vote on the resolution,” she told reporters.

“I can’t advance exactly what will be included in the resolution, but we hope that it is a resolution that gets consensus across the council,” she said. “The U.S. will be actively engaged on this, and we are hopeful that the situation along the Israeli-Lebanon border does improve.”

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