A year after the United Nations imposed a ban on arms sales to Hezbollah in the wake of its 2006 clash with Israel, the Shiite group in southern Lebanon is rearming. Iran and Syria have been implicated in the weapons buildup.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report June 28 on implementation of last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, implements an arms embargo on Hezbollah, and requires disarmament of the group, which the United States and some other Western countries have designated a terrorist organization. The 34-day war began last year when Israel launched a July military offensive into southern Lebanon after Hezbollah militants there abducted two Israeli soldiers. (See ACT, October 2006. )
In his report, Ban furnished details of extensive armaments smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border to Hezbollah, as well as to Palestinian militants. Israel asserts these transfers occur weekly. One such incident occurred June 5, when Lebanese troops in the Bekaa Valley seized a truckload of rockets and mortars destined for Hezbollah. Ban termed the clandestine weapons shipments “of great concern” and in “clear violation” of Resolution 1701.
In a separate report, a UN team of experts tasked with assessing the situation along the Lebanese border concluded June 26 that Lebanese border guards demonstrated a “worrying lack of performance.” The Security Council had commissioned this fact-finding mission, citing “mounting information” on breaches of the arms embargo.
Although the Lebanese army deployed last fall more than 8,000 troops to guard the 250-kilometer boundary with Syria, the UN team determined that Lebanese security forces lacked adequate resources to accomplish their objective. Moreover, the experts faulted border guards for instances of “corruption.” Still, in recent months Hezbollah has publicly protested the seizure of its munitions by Lebanese authorities.
The majority faction of the Lebanese parliament issued a January statement contending that “forces directly affiliated with Syrian intelligence” were transporting weapons into Lebanon. Syria’s government denies any involvement, but an Israeli official told Arms Control Today Aug. 3 that Hezbollah is “feverishly receiving major supplies” from Syria.
The Israeli government claims that Iran is the source of many of the weapons transferred through Syria to Hezbollah. During the 2006 war, ordnance with Farsi lettering was discovered in southern Lebanon. In May, Turkish officials interdicted two shipments of Iranian weapons en route to Damascus, confiscating 300 rockets hidden underneath construction materials.
Iran’s ties to Hezbollah are long-standing. The organization was co-founded by Ali Akbar Mohtashemi Pour, then Tehran’s ambassador to Damascus. Arms Control Today asked Iran’s Mission to the UN about these links, but it declined to comment for this story.
Should Israel’s allegations prove accurate, both Tehran and Damascus would be acting in violation not only of Resolution 1701 but also Resolution 1747. That resolution, implemented in response to Iran’s failure to address the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns over its nuclear program, prohibits all Iranian weapons exports as well as all trafficking in Iranian weapons by third parties.
Ban has urged Iran and Syria to do more to prevent the weapons smuggling. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also called for an increase in international pressure on those two countries.
Hezbollah contends it has replenished its stockpiles. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s head, asserted July 28 that his group again possesses “rockets that can hit any area” in what he termed “occupied Palestine,” meaning Israel. (See ACT, October 2006. )
Hezbollah’s Mohtashemi Pour maintained in an August interview with the Iranian newspaper Sharq that in recent months “the Islamic Republic has made available long-range Zelzal-2 missiles” to Hezbollah. Israel contends that it had destroyed all of Hezbollah’s Zelzal rockets during the first night of the 2006 war.