Amb. Danny Danon: Ten years later -- how to avert the next conflict in Lebanon

Israel is justifiably skeptical when it comes to the United Nations. In 2015 alone there were twenty two resolutions passed against us in the General Assembly and numerous Security Council meetings to discuss what are referred to as “the situation in the Middle East.” All this took place, while a multitude of crises continued to unfold in the Middle East and around the world.

Nevertheless, when the Second Lebanon War ended in August 2006, Israel welcomed Security Council resolution 1701 which led to the ceasefire, and the enhanced role it established for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Now, ten years later and with UNIFIL’s mandate under review by the Security Council, it’s time to admit that the resolution and force have not done enough. Despite the tense calm that exists on our northern border, Hezbollah is stronger than ever with its arsenal spread throughout Lebanon acting as fuel that can ignite the region in an instant.

The Security Council now has the opportunity avert a potential crisis in the Middle East, while at the same time proving its critics wrong.  By holding Lebanon responsible, reigning in the Hezbollah terrorists and ensuring that its resolutions and the mandate for its peacekeeping force are upheld, the Council can be a force for stability and security for the all the people in our region.  An added benefit would be the renewed faith of free and fair people around the world in the international community’s most important institution.

On July 12, 2006, terrorists from Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran, unleashed a carefully planned attack.  They launched rockets against Israeli towns and crossed the border where they killed five soldiers, and kidnapping two of them.  This led to a thirty-four day bloody war during which 156 Israelis were killed.

While UNIFIL had operated in Lebanon since 1978, resolution 1701 strengthened its mandate and included key elements which Israel viewed as vital to ensuring the peace.  Especially important was the call for “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that…there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.”

This meant that the Lebanese government would have to finally live up to its responsibility, expand its sovereignty to the southern part of its country which it had long ago abandoned to the Hezbollah terrorists.  More importantly, it clearly stated that Hezbollah was to be disarmed and therefore cease to exist as a threat to Israel.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these critical requirements of the resolution never happened. The Government of Lebanon never fully applied its sovereignty, and it never stopped Hezbollah from continuing its military buildup.  More significantly, the world simply stopped paying attention.

The effects are plain to see.  When Resolution 1701 was adopted on August 11, 2006, Hezbollah was in possession of seven thousand rockets. Today, they have over one hundred and twenty thousand rockets and missiles hidden in mosques and schools throughout southern Lebanon. This is a larger arsenal of rockets than that of all European NATO countries combined.

Rectifying this situation does not necessitate prolonged negotiations or even additional significant budget or personnel.  What is needed is political will, both from the Lebanese government, and from the Security Council members to finally implement resolution 1701 and to ensure that UNIFIL fulfills its mandate.

Lebanon’s obligations under 1701 are clear; they must disarm all militant groups in their country, ban armed forces south of the Litani River besides the Lebanese army, and ensure that no foreign government operate illegally within their borders.

The Security Council members also have important roles to play in this process.  They must provide the support, and when necessary the pressure, to coax the Lebanese into fulfilling their obligations.  This can mean everything from providing legal and military guidance to the relevant Lebanese agencies and officials, to providing incentives or withholding aid until the obligations of 1701 are met.

At the same time, the Council must ensure that UNIFL does not remain a silent observer as Hezbollah defies the international community.  According to a recent report we released to the UN, resolution 1701 was violated by Hezbollah over 2,000 times in 2015 alone.  This included over a thousand incidents of armed Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon, and over five hundred incidents of cross-border violations.  With over 10,000 peacekeepers in place this should not be happening.

While Israel prefers diplomacy, we will of course continue to vigorously defend ourselves when necessary.  It should be clear to all that an incident similar to the kidnapping of our soldiers in 2006 could once again deteriorate into a full blown conflict.

If UNIFIL would actively stop such incidents, or at the very least compel the Lebanese authorities to act appropriately, the chances of war would be significantly reduced.  Moreover, the public faith in the effectiveness of the UN, and the Security Council in particular, would be greatly enhanced benefiting the entire international community.