The Unifil Peacekeeping Mandate: Kicking the Southern Lebanon Can Down the Road
OpEd: The recent renewal of the UN mission’s mandate was marked by rising tensions between the US and other UNSC members, to little avail.
by Karim Makdisi. Read more on PassBlue.
On Aug. 28, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to renew its peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, called Unifil, for another year. This unanimity, however, masked what had been a series of heated informal discussions on the nature of Unifil and the interpretation of its mandate. The United States, essentially representing Israel, threatened to veto the renewal resolution unless it included aggressive language to make the peacekeeping force more intrusive in search of “terrorist” Hezbollah weapons in its area of operation south of the Litani River to the UN demarcation line, called the Blue Line.
The remaining 14 Council members, led by the penholder, France, on behalf of Lebanon and supported by UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s recommendations, insisted that the mandate should remain, more or less, as is. Maintaining the status quo was particularly urgent, given Lebanon’s unprecedented yearlong national crisis. The country has been rocked by economic and financial collapse and a steep rise in poverty, unemployment and rampant inflation. Popular protests have helped bring down two governments and prompted a flurry of international diplomatic interventions led personally by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Moreover, on Aug. 4, a massive ammonia-nitrate blast ripped through Beirut’s port. The single-largest nonnuclear explosion on record globally and heard all the way to Cyprus, it devastated surrounding neighborhoods and traumatized a large portion of Beirut’s population. The last thing that any member state in the Security Council wanted, other than the more extremist elements in the Trump administration, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was a destabilization of southern Lebanon, a relatively calm region patrolled by Unifil.
The mission was established in 1978 to oversee the Israeli army’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, a process that took 22 years and created an unprecedented dilemma…