UNIFIL One Year On

The Washington Institute on Near East Policy just released a very even-handed assessment of the peacekeeping force deployed to Lebanon following a ceasefire brokered through the Security Council one year ago this week.

The post-2006 UNIFIL is regarded as more robust than its predecessor, with units that include tanks as well as armored fighting vehicles. It also has ships in a maritime task force working in collaboration with the Lebanese navy. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 authorizes “all necessary action in areas of deployment of [UNIFIL’s] forces,” qualifying this by also stating “as it deems within its capabilities.”

Both Israeli and UN officials have reported that weapons are being smuggled to Hizballah across the border from Syria, although not in UNIFIL’s area of operations below the Litani river in the south.

According to the report, Unifil’s single greatest challenge is maintaining a visible presence and cordial relationship with the local population, despite the understandable urge to scale back patrols following a suicide car bombing that killed six peacekeepers two months ago.

Some UNIFIL officers favor adopting a more population-centric approach, working to build up personal relationships with the villagers of southern Lebanon and even local Hizballah representatives. Others seem content to simply wait out the rest of their tours in southern Lebanon behind the razor-wire fences encircling their bases.

At the root of the problem is UNIFIL’s greatest strength — the fact that it comprises soldiers from so many different countries…The different contingents do not just vary in training and equipment, but also in the way they conduct themselves within their own sectors..

Success in Southern Lebanon is not a foregone conclusion. There is growing concern, for example, that Unifil may be targeted in the future, possibly to intimidate the international community as the Lebanese Special Tribunal gets off the ground. Still, it is worth recalling that just one year ago a barrage of rockets rained down on northern Israel while thousands of Lebanese civilians became displaced by Israeli bombing. But through diplomacy at the UN, catastrophe was contained.