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UNIFIL mandate renewal postponed following UK, US objections

The draft resolution sought to curtail the peacekeeping force's freedom to carry out patrols without prior coordination with the Lebanese army.

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.

The U.N. Security Council postponed a Wednesday morning vote on renewing the mandate of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force along the Israel-Lebanon border, forcing a likely Thursday vote hours before the mandate expires.

An Israeli diplomatic source told JNS on Aug. 30 that the French-drafted resolution to renew the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon had proven too problematic for the council to vote on, specifically due to language that would have again restricted UNIFIL’s freedom of movement.

UNIFIL was established in 1978 to confirm Israel’s 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 French are the pen holders on Lebanese-related issues at the United Nations and, in consultation with the Lebanese government, filed a draft resolution that retracted a provision in last year’s mandate renewal which demanded all parties to allow UNIFIL troops permission to carry out patrols without prior coordination with the Lebanese army, in addition to announced patrols.

The intention at the time was to give UNIFIL greater freedom of movement, with less of a chance of tipping off the Hezbollah terror group, which controls southern Lebanon and often thwarts UNIFIL’s operations.

It is unclear what practical benefit the change had over the last year.

Nevertheless, the removal of that provision, and the addition of language requiring that UNIFIL once again coordinate all visits with the Lebanese government, did not go over well with at least two permanent members of the Security Council—the United States and the United Kingdom. The United Arab Emirates, a non-permanent member, also conveyed its disapproval.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote to the Security Council on Aug. 3 that UNIFIL continued to face restrictions to its freedom of movement and delays in access to locations of interest.

“The mission’s ability to conduct patrols and activities independently must be maintained,” Guterres wrote at the time.

The Security Council is now scheduled to vote on an amended draft resolution from France on Thursday. According to a diplomatic source, the French have put back in language allowing for both announced and unannounced UNIFIL patrols.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that if the Security Council adopted the same language as last year regarding the freedom of movement of U.N. troops, the resolution would “remain ink on paper.”

Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said on Wednesday that “Lebanon’s demands to limit the freedom of oversight and monitoring of UNIFIL personnel regarding what is happening in southern Lebanon are not accepted.”

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