Lebanon is intensifying its efforts to amend the resolution on the renewal of the term of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that operates in the South.
In August 2022, the renewal of the mandate of the peacekeeping force included changes that allowed its troops to expand their movement on the ground without prior coordination and cooperation with the Lebanese army.
The amendment was a precedent and sparked controversy in Lebanon, with Hezbollah saying the change turns UNIFIL into an “occupying force”.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told Asharq Al-Awsat that efforts are underway to amend the article.
The amended article will be presented to relevant countries next week, he revealed.
The UN Security Council will meet in late August to address the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate.
A source at the Foreign Ministry told Asharq Al-Awsat that efforts have kicked off to garner international support for Lebanon’s position to amend the article. Bou Habib has met with a number of ambassadors of permanent Security Council members.
“Calm in the area of jurisdiction of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon must be an international demand, as it is for Lebanon, to prevent some accidents that we have seen this past year,” it added.
“It is best for everyone to return to the old equation where the army would accompany UNIFIL on its patrols,” it went on to say.
Bou Habib said the army has 2,000 soldiers deployed in UNIFIL’s area of operation. The UN peacekeepers, however, boast 10,000 troops who carry out 400 patrols a day. The army cannot possibly accompany all these patrols and therefore determines which patrol to join so that UNIFIL carries out its duties securely.
A military source confirmed that the army was unable to join every patrol due to a lack of numbers.
It added that the renewal of the resolution lies in the hands of political and diplomatic circles and the army is not involved in the process.
Relations between UNIFIL and residents in the South have grown strained in recent years. Attacks by civilians have taken place against the UN forces. The UNIFIL command had therefore demanded that the army accompany the peacekeepers on their patrols to ensure their safety.
In January, a member of the Irish contingent was killed in one such attack. Three of his colleagues were injured. A judge charged a detained suspect and four fugitives with premeditated murder in the attack.
CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) Riad-Kahwaji told Asharq Al-Awsat that the countries with troops in UNIFIL are not willing to put them at risk and in a confrontation with Hezbollah, which effectively controls the South.
They are aware that the Lebanese government is unable to impose its power and sovereignty throughout Lebanon, so the issue of expanding UNIFIL’s jurisdiction is off the table.
There is consensus to keep the situation as it is as long as the geo-political situation also remains unchanged, he remarked, while citing the secret American-Iranian talks and reports of a new deal between Washington and Tehran.
The potential deal will likely prompt the United States to avoid any tensions with Iran, including in southern Lebanon, so Washington would probably not be opposed to changing the amended article to the way it was before August 2022.