Hezbollah reigns supreme in southern Lebanon: Growing Blue Line instability; UNSCR1701 (2006) basically Broken; Multiple Lebanese threats against UNIFIL and Hezbollah reigns supreme in southern Lebanon.

Unanimously accepted under the title United Nations Security Council Resolution UNSCR2650 (2022), the current variant of the initial mandate 1701 (2006)[1] seemingly highlights the growing acceptance by many of the international bodies of Hezbollah’s military supremacy in southern Lebanon[2], growing Hezbollah locally induced restrictions on the unwieldy UN Interim Force In Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) freedom of movement and it’s continuous rollback from the Blue Line (2000 UN recognized boundary between Israel and Lebanon) and the Lebanese Armed Forces’ (LAF) inability to support stability or enforce Lebanese sovereignty.

Still, the vote, unusually delayed by 24 hours (from 30 August to 31, the final day for mandate renewal) due to Russian and Chinese reservations on the text, has a tint of silver lining. The alarming developments on the Blue Line resulted in the resolution including paragraphs (15, 16, and 17) that require UNIFIL to move to regain the tactical initiative in southern Lebanon. Specifically, that the force will patrol independently of LAF. Although it is unclear how UNIFIL would move to access all areas of interest on the Blue Line, especially those Hezbollah deny them entrance to (observation and operational sites), the recall to life is clear. A message from New York made clear by the Security Council’s expectation (led by the United State and the United Kingdom) for improved UNIFIL monitoring of the south. Potentially serving as a practical benchmark for UN leadership to review mission effectiveness by the mandate renewal in August 2023. Specifically, the current resolution contains two potential “pivots of change”:  UNIFIL independent freedom of movement in south Lebanon and LAF support of UNIFIL (in the face of Hezbollah’s defiance of the UN).

The message caused much consternation in Beirut, resulting in an “all Lebanon” threat against UNIFIL’s security. Including “Kind advice” given (10 September) by Shiekh Mohammed Yazbek (senior member of Hezbollah) that the current resolution potentially “turns the (UNIFIL) forces into occupation forces whose role would be to protect the Israeli enemy through pursuing the people and the resistance”[3]. Basically, calling for an “open season” against UNIFIL.

Similar comments were made by Lebanese state authorities who moved to make sure that the newly minted Spanish UNIFIL commander and Head of Mission understood who calls the shots in Lebanon and where his actual marching orders came from, Hezbollah (not New York). Accordingly, it was stressed to UNIFIL “the importance of continuing permanent cooperation and coordination with the Lebanese Army in order to secure the success of the mission of UN forces in Lebanon”[4].

Traditional Lebanese scare tactics, unfortunately, based on past experience, could potentially lead to Hezbollah “messaging” through heightened attacks against UNIFIL personnel. The threats alone, supporting the sustainment of the current toxic environment that UNIFIL operates in, serve to maintain the forces current tactical limitations on the ground.  Regarding the specific paragraphs that have annoyed Hezbollah, similar ones have populated previous resolutions since 2003. Starting with “calling” then “urging” (2007) through “strongly calls” (2009), escalating to “deplore strongly” (2010) and ratcheting up to “condemning in the strongest term” (2011-2012). Only to return (2013-2018) to “urges” respect for UNIFIL Freedom of Movement. Even following the attack against an UNIFIL patrol in Majdul Zum (2018, the start of the growing spike in intimidation of UNIFIL personnel), in what can only be seen as a UN “shot across the bow”, the resolution included for the first time a specific paragraph on the issue of UNIFIL’s ability to freely monitor the South. Only to be bureaucratically pushed back in 2019 with the addition of the diplomatic bombshell, “Lebanese sovereignty”[5].

The fact is, UNIFIL, understandably, is risk-averse, and threats to force protection are operationally debilitating to UNIFIL leadership. As mentioned, the usual meetings have already occurred, and all know their place. Sadly, although these paragraphs are exciting to some, they are not the pivot needed to revitalize the force. Rather it appears that the Council hopes the situation will sort itself out, laying the responsibility at the UNIFIL Commander and Head of Mission’s doorstep. Change needs to come from the security council to retool and downsize UNIFIL.

Meanwhile, on the Blue Line, UNIFIL leadership is making clear to Shiekh Nasrallah that they got his message. A UNIFIL tweet (26 September) makes this clear. They will not act independently of LAF.

UNSCR 2650: Bottom Lines: Potential pivot for change?

The current UN resolution echoes amongst the United States, United Kingdom, and to some extent, the United Arab Emirates, the growing appreciation of many “Lebanon Watchers” that the emerging situation on the ground is reminiscent of July 2006. Witness to a growing brazenness by Hezbollah Secretary General Shiekh Hassan Nasrallah, who focused on self-aggrandizement, chooses to deny Lebanon a better future (energy extraction from the sea) while threatening regional stability. A development coupled with an expanded Hezbollah military presence in southern Lebanon, including over twenty static observation sites and RADWAN tactical cadres who intimidate UNIFIL personnel while irresponsibly creating friction that could easily escalate into a major incident. Regarding LAF, it chooses to function as Hezbollah’s mouthpiece and international executive agent, basically enabling Hezbollah’s growing takeover of the Blue Line.

Choosing to obscure, through appropriate unanimously agreed language, the lengthy UN resolution glosses over even the Dots that UNIFIL reported on in the last mission status report filed to the Secretary. A text that regales a tale of intimidation and details the growing restricted tactical environment of the international force in southern Lebanon[6]. Yet, when reading the different UN resolutions renewing UNIFIL’s mandate these past years, you are struck by just how stuck the UN process is. The biggest change noted is in the length of the resolution, growing from only four pages (UNSCR 1701 in 2006) to the current variant, which is close to ten. A text that fails to mention by name Lebanese Hezbollah, past fatal LAF attacks against Israel (2010 and 2013), or any investigative results of the growing intimidation of UNIFIL personnel in the last decade. A result of Hezbollah scare tactics against UNIFIL personnel.

The diplomatically correct text (basically a cooky cutter of previous iterations with all the trappings of heading, preamble, and operative section) is very distant from the facts on the ground for UNIFIL personnel and many southern Lebanese. Yet, the intent and attitude are understood at the UNIFIL action level, where the guiding light is a policy of effective cohabitation with the very aim of the mission – The growing Hezbollah remilitarization of southern Lebanon. For many, the gap between facts and diplomatic reality is clear, and what is more so, the driving factor behind UNIFIL’s inability to deliver on its potential – UN acquiesce to a diminished UNIFIL freedom of movement.

Sixteen years after Hezbollah chose war over peace and stability, most members of the international body continue to choose to ignore the festering Iranian threat that Hezbollah’s remilitarization of southern Lebanon presents to Lebanon and the region. Clinging to a dated concept of operation that is failing the mission. One is based on an ineffective saturation model (10,000 boots on the ground) and striving tediously to empower a weak and demoralized “strategic partner”, LAF. All of which is only serving to further enable Hezbollah military supremacy in southern Lebanon.). Yet the early warning signs (the Dots) are out there on the Blue Line. The ground truth is that UNSCR 1701 (2006) is severely degraded, possibly even defunct.

Having said that, although UNSCR 2650 (2022) is similar to previous editions, this year’s resolution process and text raise a glimmer of hope. According to Official UN reporting [7] detailing the tense two-week behind-the-scenes discussions between the Council members, five drafts were circulated by France (the penholder) before reaching a resolution on the agreed text. The diplomatic huff led to the postponing of the vote for a day. A clear sign that some national representatives at UN headquarters (at least US, UK, and UAE) believe that business is not as usual for the lengthy UNIFIL mission (initiated in 1978, over 40 years ago).

Apparently, the points of contention were on two main issues: continuing UNIFIL’s interim non-lethal material support to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and motivating UNIFIL to regain its operational independence in southern Lebanon. Both issues relate to the very essence of the force’s mission: building LAF capability (UNIFIL’s strategic partner) to enforce Lebanese sovereignty in the South and UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and observation to prevent the military return of Lebanese Hezbollah to the Blue Line.

China and Russia were the first to contest the French draft opposing the extension of extraordinary aid to LAF (encouraging other states to join the diplomatic fray). Claiming misgivings of international precedent and potentially impacting UN missions worldwide, the French penholder adapted the language limiting their initiative to enlarge support for LAF via UNIFIL. Resulting in authorizing only a six-month extension of the “temporary” support to the Lebanese. It is not clear the motivation behind the two permanent security council members’ behavior, possibly connected with strategic messaging to “NATO” following the tension over Taiwan or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Complementary, a result of a growing understanding that there is nothing interim about UNIFIL or France’s open-ended support for LAF. Whatever the reason, and not for the first time, it appears that a UN mission’s future, in this case, UNIFIL’s, appears to be impacted by the growing discord between the permanent Security Council Five. Potentially, this could lead to further Russian questions regarding the force’s activities in the South. Already it appears that Russia has positioned herself as a sponsor for Hezbollah. A potentially growing trend due to the Russia – Iran growing engagement.

The second bone of contention raised, paramount to mission success, was the growing unease amongst certain council members regarding the draft’s suppression of the expanding overt Hezbollah military threat in the South. A result of the enlarged Hezbollah tactical presence and especially the current establishment of over twenty permanent static intelligence collection sites (some called “Containers”). A marked change on the Blue Line coupled with the routine deployment of RADWAN ground attack strike teams presents a clear and present threat to Israel and to regional stability.

The containers activity is masked by a civilian deception, designated as so-called “Private Property” (thereby refusing entry to UNIFIL) and under the cynical cover of an ecological project (Green Without Borders). The excuses for the RADWAN patrolling of the Blue Line are varied, but the military [A1] attired young men accost and intimidate UNIFIL personnel, deterring and denying their Blue Line freedom of movement. The result of the pushback of UNIFIL is that not only is the force constantly relinquishing ground to Hezbollah, but it is also losing its raison d’etre – Blue Line presence in order to prevent friction and generate the required high-level respect and access needed to support the managing of potential Blue Line escalation. Yet still, the UN continues to congratulate itself on a “mission Successful”. Trumpeted these last two years in a specific paragraph,

“Recognizing that UNIFIL has successfully implemented its mandate since 2006 and has allowed for maintaining peace and security since then”[8].

Yet, the reasons for Blue Line stability are not UNIFIL and its largely ineffective huge footprint of around 10,000 boots on the ground, but rather the calculus of Secretary General of the Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and Israel’s commitment to stability. Specifically, the measured Israeli response to Hezbollah’s many cross Blue Line attacks against Israeli northern communities. These include underground attack tunnels, snipers, and rocket and anti-tank strikes, all of which could easily have escalated into a major conflict.

From the run-up to voting on the resolution, it seems clear that some states feel it is time for a change.  This was made clear by the US, UK, UAE, and in some ways also an India demand for the “inclusion of stronger language condemning the presence of weapons outside Lebanon’s control and, in the UK’s case, explicitly mentioning the Shi’a group Hezbollah”. All were rejected, apparently due to Russian objection.

The difference of opinion was made clear following the very short discussion (under twenty minutes) by US representative Richard M. Mills, who remarked that although the United States welcomes the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, there is an expectation to see change. Pointing out “that the proliferation of prefabricated containers placed by Green Without Borders obstructs UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line and heightens tensions in the area, further demonstrating that this so-called environmental group is acting on Hezbollah’s behalf”. Further, he also underscored – due to UNSCR 1701 – that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River must be free of weapons, except for those used by the Government or UNIFIL.  He added that, through today’s resolution, the Council has made clear that Hizbullah’s continued amassing of weapons must stop. Remarking on UNIFIL’s restricted freedom of movement, the US raised two important benchmarks for future review, one for UNIFIL and one for the Lebanese government:

Firstly, that the mandate renewal “reaffirms UNIFIL’s authorization to operate independently and conduct both announced and unannounced patrols under the terms of the status-of-forces agreement and its mandate”. Noting “that this is an important reminder that UNIFIL peacekeepers are being blocked — with increasing frequency — from conducting mandated tasks and accessing sites of concern”. Secondly, he urged the “Lebanese authorities to facilitate UNIFIL’s full and timely access to its entire area of operations — including all sites of concern[9].

Regarding the growing restrictions on UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, the draft proposal fittingly suggested that behind the force’s growing inability to operate is popular Lebanese fake news. Specifically, the French draft suggested UNIFIL develop unique capability to deal with “disinformation and misinformation” regarding “perceptions reported among some in southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is not authorised to patrol without the presence of the LAF”[10].

This sleight of hand totally obfuscates the driving factor behind UNIFIL’s decreasing grasp of the land while laying the blame on bad public relations rather than on Hezbollah – that sponsors targeted violence against patrols or broad band denial of access to land sequestered for its operational purposes (even including UNIFIL blue barrels marking the Blue Line). Members of the security council, choosing to deflect this wily scheme, while trying to not totally ignore the burning issue of restricted UNIFIL movement went for a diplomatic solution. Sadly, in what seems like one straight out of Monty Python (“something in life are bad, They can really make you mad, Others just make you swear and curse”)[11] a specific “scathing” paragraph was added,

“17. Demands the parties cease any restrictions and hindrances to the movement of UNIFIL personnel and guarantee the freedom of movement of UNIFIL, including by allowing announced and unannounced patrols”[12].

This “proactive” sentiment was not missed by the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Shiekh Nasrallah. What really got his attention were two additional paragraphs (numbers 15 and 16). These, based on previous iterations of UNSCR1701, were revamped in order to make it clear to the Government of Lebanon that the Council expects full Lebanese support for UNIFIL freedom of movement. Although worded politely and without “naming or shaming” Hezbollah it “urged all parties” to “ensure that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL in all its operations and UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line in all its parts is fully respected and unimpeded[13].

The diplomatic yet direct message went on. Basing its legal request on the UN’s understanding of the current Status of Forces (SOFA) document governing UNIFIL’s activity in Lebanon. A document signed between the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL, making it clear that “…UNIFIL does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks and that UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently”.

All this while laying the responsibility on the Government of Lebanon “to facilitate UNIFIL’s prompt and full access to sites requested by UNIFIL for the purpose of swift investigation, including all relevant locations north of the Blue Line related to the discovery of tunnels crossing the Blue Line which UNIFIL reported as a violation of resolution 1701 (2006)”.

Unfortunately, the paragraph ended with the well-known catch phrase, and in itself a strategic oxymoron, “while respecting the Lebanese Sovereignty”. A “get out of jail” card that LAF will utilize extensively when refusing UNIFIL entrance into Hezbollah military sanctuaries on the Blue Line – a 2006 déjà vu.  

To summarize, the current UNIFIL resolution (UNSCR2650) raises four issues that require further follow-up and could possibly serve as “Pivots for change” come mandate renewal in 2023:

First, at the global level: UNIFIL appears to have fallen prey to Security Council power play between permanent members with Russia and China creating a mini crisis, delaying the vote by a day. Begging the question how this may impact the future of the mission (existence, rules of engagement or scale) and additional UN missions.

Secondly, regarding the mission’s strategic compass: LAF continues to be falsely perceived as a viable strategic partner for stability and a potential counter force to Hezbollah. Entitling it to continuous UNIFIL and other donor nations support to develop capacity and operational capability. Even though LAF, after more than twenty years, continues to fail in enforcing Lebanese sovereignty in the South or on the Blue Line. Moreso, led by France (current pen holder of the resolution), the resolution continues to Ignore LAF’s growing deference to Hezbollah and the negative impact this has on UNIFIL monitoring activity. Instead, the council voted to extend for another six months its enlarged material support to LAF.  

Tactical environment:

Thirdly, begrudgingly the Security Council accepted that UNIFIL”s Freedom of Movement is restricted, impairing its ability to fully monitor the Blue Line. In this regard the current resolution (paragraphs 15 and 16 and 17)[14] made it resoundingly clear to Lebanon that UNIFIL is entitled to freely roam southern Lebanon (without pre-coordination with LAF). As mentioned, the Council’s decision handed the newly minted UNIFIL Force Commander and Head Of mission a hot potato resonating in Beirut. Multiple messaging, probably not lost on the Spanish force commander whose national contingent (SPANBATT) was attacked in in the Shiite village of Khiam in 2007 resulting in Spanish and Columbian fatalities.  

Fourthly, the resolution Showed “concern” over the installation of containers on the Blue Line – yet refusing to acknowledge Hezbollah responsibility for them. Simply adding this restriction on UNIFIL mobility to the ever-growing list of areas outside of the force’s purview (e.g., Attack tunnels and rocket and missile strike sites). The excuses for the RADWAN patrolling of the Blue Line are varied, but the military [A2] attired young men accost and intimidate UNIFIL personnel, deterring and denying their Blue Line freedom of movement. The result, a growing swath of the Blue Line, currently about 10 percent (approximately 10 Kilometers out of about 120 kilometers) is under direct permanent Hezbollah control. This coupled with Hezbollah supremacy in the south has resulted in even further tactical push back of UNIFIL.

A new hope for UNIFIL?: Less is more, Streamline the force and improve situational awareness

The current message from the UN to Lebanon regarding UNIFIL independence in south Lebanon is a start. Yet, as the past few weeks make clear, the “all Lebanese” scare tactics will only serve to sustain UNIFIL intimidation and further limit force freedom of movement.

What is needed is a clear directive to UNIFIL to act proactively to regain access to the Blue Line and rollback Hezbollah’s military “bites and graps:”. Understandably, this could potentially impact force protection. A brave move the UN may not be able to take and will be difficult to implement. Therefore, under the current conditions. Needed, at the very least, is clear UN recognition of Hezbollah culpability and Lebanese acquiescence in the deterioration of the situation. These to include mentioning past LAF attacks against the IDF and reviewing support to LAF.

The Lebanese government should not be afforded the right of “sovereignty”, while reneging on their international responsibilities. They should not be allowed to enjoy UN material support, while restricting the very UNIFIL mission that wishes to support LAF, or for that matter facilitating Hezbollah activities against Israel.   

Looking ahead, it is time to rethink and reconfigure UNIFIL. The current resolution can potentially assist in making headway in this process of streamlining UNIFIL into what it can still successfully perform:

Enable sufficient smart monitoring of the Blue Line with real time reporting for better situational awareness and international common language and the maintaining of the mechanism for assisting cross Blue Line communication – limiting routine misunderstanding through tactical liaison and the facilitation of the trilateral meeting between the IDF and LAF (with Hezbollah indirectly in the room). [A3] 

This entails immediately initiating the staff work for scaling down the force (less boots and more brain). The US’s proposed benchmarks, paragraphs 15 – 17 in USCR2650, (UNIFIL authorization to operate independently of LAF and Lebanese responsibility to facilitate UNIFIL’s full and timely access to its entire area of operations) could serve as base line for reconfiguring the force.

Additionally required, in itself a message, the setting in place of a review process for 2023. One to be approved when the council debates the extension of additional UNIFIL material aid to LAF in the beginning of 2023.   

It’s time to accept that the saturation model from 2006, thousands of UNIFIL boots on the ground, has failed to prevent the re-militarization of southern Lebanon and the return of it’s Iranian proxy Hezbollah to the boundary between Lebanon and Israel. In fact it has only turned UNIFIL (like all of Lebanon) into another Iranian hostage. This was not the spirit of UNSCR1701 in 2006.

The current mini crisis revolving around the mandate renewal (Russia and China contesting) and what appears to be council exhaustion with fixing the BIG UNIFIL mission serves as a potential window of opportunity for proactive change. A chance to scale back the size of UNIFIL, its cost and potential risk to contributing countries personnel, while relegating the limited international resources elsewhere needed.

Sheikh Nasrallah’s current threats, regarding the maritime energy issue, and the heightened destabilizing Hezbollah presence on the Blue Line are an indication, sixteen years after the second Lebanon war, that business is not as usual on the Blue Line. What is needed is a clearer message from the UN to Lebanon but more so, a clear directive to UNIFIL to act proactively to regain access to the Blue Line and rollback Hezbollah’s military “bites and graps”. Or to come clear and admit “mission unsuccessful”.

Enough with the white elephant with short eyesight that is far too big for its boots. UNIFIL – Go Slim!

*Credit for featured pic (top of the page): UNIFIL.

[1] 31.8.2022. Security Council Extends Mandate of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for One Year, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2650 (2022) https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15013.doc.htm; 11.8.2006. Security Council calls for an end to hostilities between Hizbollah and Israel, unanimously adopting resolution 1701 (2006). https://press.un.org/en/2006/sc8808.doc.htm.

[2] The UN recognized the boundary in July 2000 as the line of Israeli full withdrawal from Lebanon, fulfilling UNSCR 425 from 1978.  


[4] https://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/292403-foreign-ministry-says-hasn-t-requested-removal-of-1559-from-unifil-resolution.

[5] 29.8.2019. Resolution 2485 (2019) was Adopted by the Security Council at its 8610th meeting on 29 August 2019. https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2485.pdf.

[6]https://unifil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/sg_report_s-2022-556.pdf. See, Annex I* Restriction of the freedom of access and movement of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon from 19 February to 20 June 2022. Over four pages (16-20) of incidents where UN personnel were obstructed from performing their mission in southern Lebanon. 

[7] 30.8.2022. What’s in Blue – Security Council Report. “UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL): vote on mandate renewal”. https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/whatsinblue/2022/08/un-interim-force-in-lebanon-unifil-vote-on-mandate-renewal-2.php; 31.8.2022. Security Council extends mandate of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for one year, unanimously adopting resolution 2650 (2022) https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15013.doc.htm.

7 30.8.2021. Resolution 2591 (2021) was Adopted by the Security Council at its 8845th meeting on 30 August 2021. https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2591.pdf.

[9] Meeting coverage – Security Council. 9121st meeting (am). S/15013. 31.8.2022.  Security Council Extends Mandate of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for One Year, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2650 (2022). https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15013.doc.htm.

[10] 30.8.2022. What’s in Blue – Security Council Report. “UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL): vote on mandate renewal”. https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/whatsinblue/2022/08/un-interim-force-in-lebanon-unifil-vote-on-mandate-renewal-2.php

[11] Monty Python – always look on the bright side of life (with lyrics). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ECUtkv2qV8.

[12] 31.8.2022. Resolution 2650 (2022) was Adopted by the Security Council at its 9121st meeting on 31 August 2022. https://undocs.org/en/S/RES/2650(2022).  


[14] https://undocs.org/en/S/RES/2650(2022).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Erez David Maisel BG (IDF Res)

Erez David Maisel BG (IDF Res)

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up to stay current on Israel’s border conflict.
Skip to content