The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is one of the longest peacekeeping missions in place, in a country facing internal difficulties related to its political system. It is also one of the rare “traditional” peacekeeping operations, almost purely military affair led by its Force Comander Major-General Luciano Portolano (Italy), whereas most other UN operations are multidimensional, with a strong civilian component and a civilian SRSG (Novosseloff, 2015b: 775). The longevity of this mission, coupled with the stagnating political situation in Lebanon and the difficulties generated by the influx of refugees in this country, raises the question of its suitability to resolve deeply rooted issues maintaining tensions between Lebanon and Israel. This article will expose the historical background and mandate of UNIFIL, its limitations and achievements, as well as United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recommendations following his visit to Lebanon in March 2016.
Historical Background and Mandate
In the 1970s, tensions increased between Israel and Lebanon following the relocation of Palestinians in Lebanese territory. Attacks repeatedly took place against Israel and against Palestinian bases in Lebanon. On 11 March 1978, Israeli forces invaded Southern Lebanon following a Palestinian attack that Israel thought to be backed by Lebanon, which led the Lebanese government to submit a formal complaint to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC consequently adopted Resolutions 425 and 426 establishing the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL I) on 19 March 1978. It aimed at overseeing the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon, restoring international peace and security, and assisting the Lebanese government in restoring its effective authority in the area. It has been regularly renewed, and significantly strengthened in August 2006 by Resolution 1701 (UNIFIL II) following the renewal of intense hostilities at the Israeli-Lebanese border, with involvement of the Hezbollah. Its main objectives were to monitor the cessation of hostilities, restore Lebanese authority in Southern Lebanon – a previous goal that still had not been fulfilled – and continue facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid in the area. An important difference between the original and the enhanced UNIFIL has been its work to reinforce the Lebanese Armed Forces since 2006, which weakness had been to the benefit of Israeli forces.
In March 1978, about 6.000 troops were deployed in the occupied territory with personnel from Europe (France, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Italy) in majority. In August 2006, about 15.000 troops were rapidly deployed, with important contributions from Europe (Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Poland). As of February 2016, 10.521 uniformed personnel are deployed in the framework of UNIFIL. UNIFIL’s command and control structure differs from other operations, as a result from French influence.
Limitations and Achievements
UNIFIL (I and II) has constantly been characterized by a lack of unified consent within the UNSC with regards to its creation and its deployment. This is explained by the diverging views and influences that UNSC members have towards Lebanon, which have consistently overridden the operation’s purpose. Still today, UNIFIL is maintained for political interests rather than to actually resolve this intricate and long-standing conflict (Novosseloff, 2015b: 775-776). Furthermore, UNIFIL originally suffered from a lack of communication with all parties to the conflict, i.e. Israel, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). As a result, actors differently interpreted the mandate and pressure was not adequately exercised (Novosseloff, 2015a: 255). This difficulties clearly showed that consent of the parties is indeed key to the full implementation of a operation’s mandate, as later stated in the Brahimi Report (2000).
Despite complex circumstances and operating environment, UNIFIL was however successful in its local and regional stabilization role as well as provision of humanitarian assistance, which became the primary basis for its further maintenance (Novosseloff, 2015a: 254). UNIFIL has indeed contained the still ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon and provided a security buffer between the two countries. Since 2006, UNIFIL has improved with regards to cooperation and coordination with parties to the conflict, which has significantly defused tensions and prevented incidents at the border. UNIFIL’s establishment of a security environment will however need to be accompanied by an effective political process in order to achieve objectives that go further than only military ones. Indeed, without military and political robustness, the deterrence exercised and security provided by UNIFIL could vanish if parties’ interest in keeping the area stable simply fades away (Novosseloff, 2015b: 776-777).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Visit in Lebanon
On march 24th, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has paid a visit to Lebanon for a two days official trip where he has been able to express his concerns for the country and the region as well. During his visit the president of the World Bank group, Jim Yong Kim and the President of the Islamic development Bank, Ahmad Mohamed Ali Al Madani, accompanied him. Their mission had the aim of trying to find solutions in order to improve the conditions of the refugees, to support the local communities hosting them, as well as to assist on diminishing the impact on Lebanon’s economy.
Ban Ki-moon first started his short stay with a visit to the Headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) where during a press conference he has been able to express his gratitude towards the people of Lebanon for showing support and being generous with the Syrian refugees. He emphasized the fact that the international community must absolutely support Lebanon for taking in more than a million Syrian and Palestinian refugees. He particularly wanted to congratulate the great contribution, support, and efforts that Lebanon has brought in terms of hosting refugees. Ban-Ki moon also seized this opportunity to call on other countries of the region to respect and fulfill their commitments to support Syrian refugees.
According to the Secretary General’s spokesperson, Ban Ki-Moon has then proceeded to meet the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon, Nabil Berri the president of the council of Ministers, Tammam Salam, and the Secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Wafic Rhaime. During his meetings with top officials of the Lebanese government, the Secretary General expressed his concerns on the political situation in Lebanon. The secretary general has urged the Lebanese government to find a solution to the two year long vacancy of the presidency “in order for Lebanon to be whole again”, he said.
Ban Ki-moon ended his tour by visiting communities hosting refugees to see how are the conditions in which they live in and take not of their needs. He also paid a visit to the peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon and stressed the necessity to build a strong cooperation between the Lebanese and UNIFIL in order to maintain a stable security environment in this volatile region between Israel and Lebanon. Ban Ki-moon also emphasized the need to make the persistent use of the tripartite forum that includes Israel, Lebanon, and UNIFIL in order to peacefully resolve any conflicts between the two parties. Finally, the UN chief has taken the occasion to remind that the peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon has been quite successful these past years by having one of the lowest hostile periods in nearly four decades of UN presence.
Maintaining a peacekeeping mission and securing stability in a complex political environment is clearly an achievement that UNIFIL has fulfilled since its deployment in 1978. Nonetheless, cooperation and coordination efforts with local and national actors must be strengthened, in order to address root causes of the ongoing tensions between Lebanon and Israel. A clear and strong political process in Lebanon must be supported by the UN operation, which currently runs the risk of seeing its military robustness overshadowed by its lack of political substance.
Dalil Djinnit and Sophie L. Vériter
n.a. (2016). ‘UNIFIL: United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon’, United Nations, Web. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unifil/
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