(August 28, 2018 / JNS) Many in Israel believe that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon is like the three wise monkeys at the Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan; it sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil. This, they claim, is the only way to explain the selective blindness the U.N. peacekeeping force exercises when it comes to Hezbollah’s actions in southern Lebanon since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
In the 12 years since then, the Shi’ite terrorist group has turned the villages of southern Lebanon into urban warfare compounds. Prior to the war, Hezbollah operated mainly in open areas. After it, the Iranian-backed group focused on developing its infrastructure in the area’s towns and villages, knowing that in times of peace it would be protected from U.N. personnel, and in times of war it would be relatively protected by the inherent complexities of fighting in such a densely populated area.
Israel, which monitors these developments closely, was furious. Israeli intelligence about the scope of Hezbollah’s operations was given to UNIFIL, as was intelligence on the group’s top operatives orchestrating these activities.
UNIFIL did little to counter these developments, especially over the past few years, under the command of former UNIFIL chief Maj. Gen. Michael Beary.
Now, with Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col leading the international peacekeeping force, Israel hopes things will change. Del Col is unlikely to provoke an overt confrontation with Hezbollah, but he is likely to help Israel neutralize potential volatile situations so as to maintain Israel’s principal interest in the northern sector: peace and quiet.
This is why UNIFIL’s existence is, in fact, in Israel’s best interest: While U.N. troops may hinder the IDF’s operations in times of war, for the most part, UNIFIL is an efficient venting mechanism and a vital liaison to the Lebanese government and through it, to the Lebanese army.
This is also why Israel is encouraging keeping the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights border with Syria.
Given the uncertainty on this front now that Syrian President Bashar Assad has regained control of the area, and especially given Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in southern Syria, UNDOF troops’ presence can be a calming factor that would allow for communications, albeit indirect, with Damascus.
It is highly doubtful that U.N. peacekeeping troops can actually bring peace and it is equally doubtful they would be able to prevent war in the event of a wide-scale escalation in the northern sector, but they can certainly be an effective mechanism to defuse tensions on both borders.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.