In the wake of Israeli claims that the militant group Hezbollah is smuggling weapons into southern Lebanon in an attempt to illegally rearm, the UN Security Council Aug. 27 unanimously extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The extension comes on the heels of a UN report detailing lax border security in Lebanon.
During the Security Council meeting, Israeli ambassador Daniel Carmon stated that the “continuing transport of weapons” from Iran and Syria into Lebanon was in violation of Security Council resolutions. Lebanese representative Nawaf Salam affirmed the importance of the UN report but pointed to Israel’s refusal to aid or participate in the UN and Lebanese effort to disarm cluster munitions Israel dropped during the 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Hezbollah. (See ACT, October 2006.)
UNIFIL has been deployed in Lebanon since 1978, and its current mandate includes the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed in August 2006 to end that summer’s conflict. The resolution prohibits any armed militias from operating or smuggling weapons within Lebanon and specifically calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah. It also calls on Israel to provide maps of submunitions used in Lebanon.
Israel maintains that Hezbollah never fully disarmed after the 2006 hostilities. In a June 5 press release, the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that Hezbollah is focusing on “rebuilding its military infrastructure” and constructing a “new rocket arsenal.” Israel says that the group is using the “period of calm” to gain strength without UNIFIL or Israeli interference, has armed itself beyond the 20,000 rockets it had at the beginning of the 2006 conflict, and has sent militants to Iran for training.
An Israeli official told Arms Control Today Sept. 26 that Hezbollah has been arming itself “on a constant basis” for the last two years and estimated that Hezbollah has acquired about 42,000 short-, medium-, and long-range missiles. The official said that Iran and Syria manufactured the weapons and transported them mainly through land border crossings between Lebanon and Syria.
The UN border security report, submitted Aug. 25 to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by an independent task force, stated that no arms smuggling had been detected through seaports, airports, or land border crossings. The report was emphatic, however, in its calls for improvement in border security. Stating that Lebanese border control officials lacked necessary equipment, procedures, and coordination among various agencies, the report concluded that the “overall situation renders Lebanon’s borders as penetrable as they were one year ago.”
The Israeli official indicated that lack of detection of smuggling was mainly due to ineffective border monitoring. “The deployment of the Lebanese army is not effective,” the official said. “If [Hezbollah has] 42,000 missiles, they had to get them somewhere. That is the proof.”
Major General Claudio Graziano of Italy, the UNIFIL commander, claimed at an Aug. 14 press conference that the UN mission to Lebanon is succeeding. A June 27 UN report on the implementation of Resolution 1701 stated that UNIFIL has found “no evidence of a new military infrastructure” but acknowledged that past violence against Israel and UNIFIL has “demonstrated that there are unauthorized arms and hostile groups prepared to use them.” The report notes that UNIFIL and Lebanese troops found 92 banned items in the UN-controlled area south of the Litani River, including arms, ammunition, explosive devices, and two rockets. There was no indication that any of these arms had been used recently, and the report concluded that the equipment dated back to the 2006 conflict or earlier. Ban has reiterated several times that he believes the disarmament of Hezbollah should be conducted “through [a] Lebanese-led political process” and not forcefully by UNIFIL troops.
An earlier report from the secretary-general, dated February 2008, stated that Hezbollah “has not challenged allegations regarding the development of military facilities…and has publicly announced that it will use its arsenal against Israel if provoked.” More recently, the Associated Press reported that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah remarked in a televised speech Aug. 14 that keeping its arsenal “secret” is part of Hezbollah’s battle against Israel.
At the Aug. 27 Security Council meeting, Salam echoed previous calls from Ban for Israeli cooperation with efforts to clear land contaminated by cluster munitions dropped by Israel during the 2006 war. The United Nations and Lebanon have asked Israel to provide information on the number and location of cluster munitions deployed during the 34-day conflict. Between August 2006 and the middle of July 2008, the UN reports that 27 civilians were killed by cluster munitions, and 231 were injured. By late June 2008, 984 contaminated locations had been identified. The Israeli official told Arms Control Today that Israel had disclosed the necessary information to the UN.