Hizbullah Escalates Its Threats To UNIFIL Following UN Resolution To Extend Its Mandate For Another Year And Expand Its Authority

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September 13, 2022

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On August 31, 2022, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously approved Resolution 2650 extending the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year.

This peacekeeping force was deployed in Lebanon in 1978 following its establishment by UNSC Resolution 425 in March of that year. UNIFIL was established "for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces [from Lebanon], restoring international peace and security, and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area."[1]

Following the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war, the UNSC expanded UNIFIL's mandate in Resolution 1701, granting it enforcement powers, including the authority to detain armed Hizbullah personnel who threatened it or operated south of the Litani River, as well as the authority to act against the Israeli armed forces should they impede it in discharging its mandate.

The latest resolution, 2650, condemns "all acts of harassment and intimidation and all attacks" against UNIFIL personnel. It also stresses that UNIFIL "does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks and... is authorized to conduct its operation independently." [2]

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that past attempts by the U.S. to introduce this change had been vetoed by Russia and China, but this year these countries did not object.[3]

The resolution was welcomed at first by Lebanese authorities, but several days later elements in Lebanon, especially in Hizbullah, began harshly criticizing the government, and in particular the foreign ministry, for allowing the inclusion in it of clauses giving UNIFIL greater freedom of action. Hizbullah officials and supporters argued that this was a "dangerous change" and "playing with fire." The new clauses, they said, constitute "aggression" against Lebanon and in fact transform UNIFIL into an "occupying force," which justifies action against it.

In an attempt to quell the outcry, the foreign ministry stated that it had been agreed in a meeting with the UNIFIL commander that UNIFIL would continue to operate "in coordination and cooperation" with Lebanon's security forces.

Resolution 2650 also enumerated attacks on UNIFIL and its personnel in the recent years, without stating who was responsible for them. This violence was in fact instigated by Hizbullah, which has threatened UNIFIL and accused it of overstepping its mandate and essentially functioning as an arm of Israeli intelligence. These threats occasionally erupted into clashes between UNIFIL and locals in South Lebanon. Hizbullah's incitement against UNIFIL is aimed at thwarting the latter's efforts to expose Hizbullah's presence south of the Blue Line[4] in violation of UNSC Resolution 1701.[5] 

This report reviews the main points of UNSC Resolution 2650 and the reactions to it in Lebanon, including the threats by Hizbullah and its supporters to target UNIFIL:

Main Points Of UNSC Resolution 2650

On August 31, the UNSC convened, as it does every year, to discuss the official request submitted by the Lebanese government to renew UNIFIL's mandate "without changing its scope." [6]

Like in previous years, the council expressed its concern at the violations of Resolution 1701, "both by air and ground," i.e., by both Israel and Hizbullah, and called on the Lebanese government to extend its control "over all Lebanese territory." It alluded to the threats made against by UNIFIL, the attempts to impede its action, and the attacks on it, hinting at Hizbullah without naming it explicitly. For example, the resolution "note[s] with concern the recent installation of containers along the Blue Line which restrict UNIFIL’s access to, or visibility of, the Blue Line, also noting with great and increasing concern that UNIFIL still has not been able to access 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)."

Stressing the powers granted to UNIFIL, it "recalls its authorization to UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of operations of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind and to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its mandate.”

The main parts of the resolution that angered Hizbullah and its supporters were Clause 16, which states explicitly that “UNIFIL does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks and that UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently,” and Clause 17, which calls upon all parties "to 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."

These clauses were regarded by elements in Lebanon as a change to the scope of UNIFIL's mandate, in violation of the request submitted by the Lebanese government, which, as stated, demanded to renew the mandate "without changing its scope."

Official Lebanese Response

It appears that the aforementioned clauses did not initially capture the attention of the Lebanese authorities. Following the approval of the resolution, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called it "a welcome measure aimed at enhancing the stability that South Lebanon has been enjoying thanks to the close cooperation between the [Lebanese] armed forces and UNIFIL." He stressed that Lebanon was committed to aiding UNIFIL and respecting UN resolutions.[7]

The Lebanese presidency likewise issued a statement that welcomed the resolution, calling it an expression of "the international community's determination to maintain the security and stability on [Lebanon's] southern border." Thanking the UNIFIL member-states for continuing to discharge their duty as part of this force, it stressed "Lebanon's commitment to implementing the international resolutions."[8]

The shift in the tone of official Lebanon came one week later, on September 9, in a statement by the Foreign Ministry. The statement said that, although Resolution 2650 had been taken "at the request of the Lebanese authorities," it "includes language that contravenes the framework agreement between Lebanon and the UN" and which "Lebanon has rejected in the past." The statement added that the minister had asked for a meeting with the UNIFIL commander in order to stress "the importance of continuing the regular cooperation and coordination with the Lebanese armed forces for the success of UNIFIL's mission in Lebanon."[9]

In an attempt to deflect the criticism over the resolution and the government's handling of this issue, Foreign Minister 'Abdallah Bou Habib and Defense Minister Maurice Sleem stated that it had been agreed with UNIFIL that there would be no change in its methods of operations and that the cooperation and coordination would continue "in order to maintain the calm and stability in South Lebanon."[10]

Hizbullah: Resolution 2650 Turns UNIFIL Into An Occupying Force

As stated, Hizbullah harshly criticized the UNSC resolution. Its officials and supporters stated that the changes made to UNIFIL's mandate were significant and turned it into an occupying force. The officials also sharply criticized the Lebanese government for not preventing the introduction of these changes.  

Hizbullah Cleric: 'This Resolution Is A Plot Against Lebanon And Its Sovereignty"

In a sermon he delivered in Baalbek, senior cleric Muhammad Yazbek, one of the founders of Hizbullah and the representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Lebanon, stated that Resolution 2650 constitutes "a violation of prior agreements," and added: "This is a grave development that transforms [UNIFIL] into an occupying force whose function is to  protect the Israeli enemy and monitor the locals and the resistance. UNIFIL never spoke out against the hundreds of Israeli violations. So what will it be like when we grant it freedom of action?"

Slamming the Lebanese government, Yazbek said: "If the resolution was approved because the government and foreign ministry were not paying attention, that is a problem. But if it was approved with their knowledge, that is a bigger problem, because this resolution is a plot against Lebanon and its sovereignty."[11]


Muhammad Yazbek  (Source: Almanar.com.lb, September 9, 2022)

Pro-Hizbullah Clerics: UNIFIL Must Not Operate Without Prior Coordination, Should Avoid Risky Moves That Will Cost It Dearly

Shi'ite mufti Ahmad Qabalan, who is close to Hizbullah, wrote on September 11: "The UNIFIL command must understand the following points: National sovereignty is not something that can be bought and sold, and any concession regarding Lebanon's sovereignty is treason and [is valid] on paper only… The changes that have been made [in resolution 2650] are a roadmap to war [drawn] in American and Israeli ink, and there is no room for Israeli ink in Lebanon…

"Playing with fire in the Litani area is a very costly move. We will continue to play by the rules, but only within the limits of the interest of Lebanon's sovereignty. Peacekeeping forces are welcome as long as they function as such, not as occupation forces…

"We [Lebanese] insist that UNIFIL should refrain from independent action; refrain from any action without prior approval, and have no freedom [of action] on the ground, except in partnership with the [Lebanese] armed forces and within the framework of [Lebanon's] national interests. UNIFIL shall not carry out unannounced patrols or any tasks that infringe on [Lebanon's] national sovereignty. No authority can supersede that of [our] national interests…  

"The delineation of [UNIFIL's] zone of operations is a matter of Lebanese sovereignty, and any action outside this framework constitutes aggression. UNIFIL carries out 430 daily patrols in its area of operations, so it must be careful not to play with fire…"

Qabalan concluded by saying: "We will not accept any military, security or logistic force [in our territory] that serves Tel Aviv. Espionage and surveillance are grave [acts of] aggression against [Lebanon's] national interests, and [their] implications are terrible. [Protecting] the local residents is the most important element in [maintaining] Lebanon's sovereignty and defending its national interests."[12]


Ahmad Qabalan  (Source: Lebanondebate.com, September 11, 2022)

The Union of Muslim Ulema in Lebanon also condemned the resolution, warning of "problems that can happen if UNIFIL carries out raids in South Lebanon villages without the knowledge of the Lebanese army." The union called on Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri to launch a parliamentary investigation in order to identify who was responsible for not preventing the inclusion of these clauses in the resolution and to summon the Lebanese delegation to the UN to the investigation.[13]

Hizbullah-Affiliated Press Says Government's Handling Of The Resolution Issue Is Problematic, Warns Of Clashes Between UNIFIL And "The People"

The Hizbullah-affiliated press also harshly criticized the Lebanese authorities for not thwarting the resolution, and hinted at the resolution's ramifications for the security of UNIFIL forces. The Al-Akhbar daily wrote on September 9: "Is this another test of the Lebanese authorities' capabilities to enter into a clash with the resistance, or is it preparation for another provocative role to be played by UNIFIL, along with the intelligence activity it is [already] carrying out for the [Israeli] enemy and the Western capitals ?"

Stressing that the resolution had included "a dangerous change" to UNIFIL's role "that deviates from the mission with which it was tasked by Resolution 1701," it noted that this change had been proposed previously by the U.S. but had been opposed by the Lebanese government, "which is usually helped by Moscow and Beijing in order to prevent the passage of the resolution." It added that "the recent extension, with the change, passed without Russian and Chinese opposition, which indicates a problem in the handling of this issue by the Lebanese government."

Al-Akhbar criticized the government's handling of the situation, which had consisted of exchanges of accusations and passing of the blame among various elements in the government. Referring to the foreign ministry statement from September 7, 2022, which stated that the resolution included "language that contravenes the framework agreement between Lebanon and the UN," the newspaper noted that the statement had been released a week after the resolution, and asked: "Where was official Lebanon when the vote [on the resolution] was held?" It added that Foreign Minister 'Abdallah Bou Habib had warned, in a meeting with the UNIFIL commander, that the resolution could lead to "tension and dangers that will harm Lebanon" and that "UNIFIL forces could also be harmed."

The paper further reported, citing "senior sources," that Hizbullah had sent a message to UNIFIL that it must commit to the accepted rules, because "any deviation will have grave consequences."

In conclusion, it stated: "The ball is now in UNIFIL's court, and it must act rationally in order to prevent clashes with the South Lebanon residents such as those that have occurred in recent years... Everyone must realize the sensitivity of this matter, and that the international force in the south must not become a force acting on behalf of the Israeli enemy on the pretext of expanding its missions – because this will lead to the complete cancellation of Resolution 1701."[14]

An article titled "UNIFIL Has Deviated from Its Authority in Lebanon, Resolution 2650 Is Suspect," published by the pro-resistance axis Alkhanadeq.com website, asked: "Who gave UNIFIL freedom to act and the ability to serve any agenda or goal at a time of the greatest tensions since 2006 between Lebanon and its resistance and the occupation entity...?"

Warning that UNIFIL's incursions into southern Lebanon villages and neighborhoods without prior coordination with the relevant Lebanese authorities could "provoke the Lebanese residents and families, and therefore could lead Southern Lebanon to the brink of clashes between UNIFIL and the people," the article added that these clashes had taken place in the past when UNIFIL deviated from its areas of jurisdiction and entered villages to take photos.[15]

Hizbullah Supporters Tweet: The Shedding Of UNIFIL Forces' Blood Is Permitted

Threats to UNIFIL were also circulated on Twitter by Hizbullah supporters. One, @Hizbsoldier, tweeted, on September 10, a photo of a UN vehicle and wrote: "A UNIFIL forces patrol in Wadi Salouqi with no military escort. The eye of the resistance never sleeps."[16]

Another, "Hassan," tweeted on September 8: "UNIFIL missions carried out without the permission of the military command will be met with 'spontaneous' response on the part of the residents of the South, without asking permission from the relevant authorities. We love spontaneity."[17]

"Muhammad Smeha" tweeted: "UNIFIL are occupation forces, and the activity against them will be only by means of fire."[18]

"Sawt Bint Jbeil" ("The Voice of Bint Jbeil") tweeted an old video clip showing local residents throwing stones at two UNIFIL vehicles, writing "#clip #disseminated [on social media] showing what awaits #UNIFIL forces if they overstep their boundaries and miscalculate."[19]

The clip was also posted by "Jeff Zayat," who wrote: "After [Resolution 2650's] amendment [to UNIFIL's authority, UNIFIL forces, which were previously  defended by the Lebanese army, are fair game for residents of the South. This is how we understand the change. This is truly a stupid enemy. They will live in fear everywhere."[20]

 

[1] Unscr.com/en/resolutions/425.

[2] Unscr.com/en/resolutions/2650.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 8, 2022.

[4] The Blue Line, stretching for 120km between Lebanon and Israel, was set by the United Nations in 2000 for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the south of Lebanon.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 11, 2022

[7] Almarkazia.com, August 31, 2022.

[8] Presidency.gov.lb, September 1, 2022.

[9] Anbaonline.com September 7, 2022.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 11, 2022.

[11] Almanar.com.lb, September 9, 2022.

[12] Lebanondebate.com, September 11, 2022.

[13] Alahednews.com.lb, September 9, 2022.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 8, 2022.

[16] Twitter.com/ hizbsoldier, September 10, 2022.

[17] Twitter.com/hasanali1282018,  September 8, 2022.

[18] Twitter.com/ MhmdSmeha2, September 10, 2022.

[19] Twitter.com/sawtbintjbeil, September 10, 2022

[20] Twitter.com/JeffZayat, September 10, 2022.

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