The Lebanese army has been playing a limited role in the southern border regions ever since Hezbollah decided to support fighters in Gaza by opening Israel’s northern front with Lebanon.
Iran-backed Hezbollah has been clashing with Israeli forces on a daily basis since Hamas launched its Al-Aqsa Flood operation against Israel on October 7. At least 75 Hezbollah fighters have been killed so far.
Along with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the army is committed to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. The resolution helped end a 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.
The army has been active in preventing Palestinian groups from launching attacks against Israel from southern Lebanon. It has been dismantling rocket launchpads that have been discovered in the fields.
A security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the army has been carrying out sweeps of border regions in search of rocket launchers.
The presence of the military and UNIFIL has been reassuring to the locals, it added, stressing that the army will remain in its positions and is prepared for “all possibilities”.
Moreover, the source explained that the army is operating with the cover of the government. Hezbollah’s operations are, meanwhile, being covered by the state and ministerial statements.
The actions of the Palestinian factions, however, are a cause for concern, amid fears that their operations could lead to the deterioration of the security situation in the South, it added.
Political and strategic affairs researcher Khalil al-Helou said: “Officially, Lebanon is committed to resolution 1701 and the army is part of this official stance. It is therefore committed to the resolution and will not violate the truce agreement.”
It was Hezbollah, not the army, that has fired missiles at Israel, so the military must not bear the brunt of Israel’s retaliation, he added. “Whoever fired the first shot must shoulder the consequences alone,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The residents of the South are already suffering the consequences, he noted. The army must not be placed in danger from Israel, especially given that the balance of power is clearly not in its favor. The balance is not even in Hezbollah’s favor seeing as it has already lost dozens of fighters in the clashes.
Moreover, Helou refused to describe the army as a “spectator” in the current developments in the South.
It is implementing resolution 1701 by trying as much as possible to prevent non-Lebanese groups from firing rockets at Israel from Lebanese territories, he went on to say.
This sends a clear message to Israel that the Lebanese state does not want to become involved in the conflict and that it is committed to resolution 1701, Helou explained.
Other roles played by the military include rescuing the wounded and retrieving corpses, he revealed, explaining that Hezbollah cannot do so in the open as it would leave its members exposed to Israeli fire. So, the Red Cross members or army are doing so instead.
Resolution 1701 helped end the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah during the 2006 war. Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon and more UNIFIL forces were deployed to the South in coordination with the military to monitor the ceasefire.
It also stipulated that only UNIFIL and the Lebanese army are allowed to be deployed in regions south of the Blue Line and Litani River, which must be free of gunmen.
The resolution has been violated on numerous occasions by both Israel and Hezbollah over the past 17 years. Israel has breached it with its repeated violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and it is obvious that Hezbollah has not withdrawn its weapons and fighters from areas south of the Litani.
Hezbollah’s latest round of fighting with Israel has raised several questions about the effectiveness of the resolution and whether the Security Council will issue a new amended version once the fighting in Gaza, and consequently southern Lebanon, ends.