In South Lebanon on Friday, February 3, 2017, local residents clashed, in two separate but simultaneous incidents, with UNIFIL patrol units, one of them Slovenian and the other Italian, stationed there as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701; as a result, both units withdrew from the area. These two incidents followed a relatively long period of calm between the sides, leading to speculation regarding the instigators' motives and aims.
On February 5, 2017, in reaction to the clashes, 'Ali Al-Amin, an anti-Hizbullah Shi'ite Lebanese journalist and editor of the website Janoubia, attributed the events to the recent increase in Iran-U.S. tensions, arguing that Hizbullah was directing the local residents according to orders from Iran as a way of conveying a message to the U.S. and the West. He noted that UNIFIL, Lebanon, and Israel are now bargaining chips and hostages in Iran's fight against the U.S.
The following are excerpts from Al-Amin's article:
Clash between UNIFIL force and residents in South Lebanon (image: Janoubia.com, February 5, 2017)
"After years with no incidents or instigated clashes between 'Hizbullah supporters' and international forces, Lebanese circles, particularly those in South Lebanon, were surprised when two instigated clashes took place on the same day and at the same time, two days ago on Friday [February 4, 2017]. What were the aims of these incidents, and the reasons for them?
"It has been some time since we heard of any confrontations between UNIFIL forces and [South Lebanon] residents – [the last] confrontations took place following [the adoption of UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 during the 2006 war [with Israel]. During that year, and the two years that followed, there were several incidents in the areas where international forces were deployed south of the Litani River, because of known disputes surrounding the implementation of UNSCR 1701. The term 'the residents' was a secret code for groups belonging to Hizbullah that interfered with UNIFIL's execution of its missions, by mobilizing ordinary citizens, meaning women, children, and elderly, to stop UNIFIL soldiers from entering areas where Hizbullah did not want them to be. At that time, Hizbullah told people that the international forces were passing on to Israel information about Hizbullah [members'] residences and [Hizbullah] centers; [for this reason] a number of voices demanded, at that time, that the UN forces leave Lebanon.
"We were [recently] reminded [of this by] the incident that took place in the area between the towns of Majdel Zoun and Al-Mansouri, in the western sector of Tyre governorate, on Friday [February 4]. At that time, according to UNIFIL sources, a patrol from the Slovenian [unit] of the international forces that included three vehicles was ambushed by 'residents,' and at the same time, there was a similar clash between an Italian patrol and residents of the town of Al-Mansouri.
"According to another version [of the events], the [Slovenian] patrol entered the Majdel Zoun area [alone,] without a Lebanese army patrol, prompting suspicious residents to confront it. A group gathered in front of the UN patrol and the [soldiers] became frightened and fled towards Al-Mansouri. But as they fled, the UNIFIL vehicles collided with and damaged three civilian vehicles, increasing the tension between them and the residents. [In the second incident,] an Italian patrol unit happened to be at Al-Mansouri, and a clash ensued between its soldiers and the residents.
"This [situation] raises questions about the ramifications of these events. The UN [issued a statement] clearly explaining that there was no justification for what happened, and that as far as it is concerned someone instigated the problem with the [two] UNIFIL patrols. While the two incidents did not cause loss of life, and the damage was only material, the incident needs to be addressed now in light of the escalating U.S.-Iran [tension]...
"These events, which some [Lebanese] officials were careful to call incidental, could have gone unaddressed if not for the language of the statement by UNIFIL [command] regarding 'two UNIFIL patrols... obstructed by groups of aggressive men.' This indicates the possibility of a renewal of tension between UNIFIL and the so-called 'residents,' as there was in the past, primarily because the signs of the escalation in Iran-U.S. tension are manifested in provocations of various kinds, and South Lebanon will undoubtedly be one of the arenas for sending messages. This is because Hizbullah is one of the linchpins of stability in South [Lebanon] – [stability] which benefits residents of the Galilee [in Israel] as well as the residents of South [Lebanon] – and is a main factor in maintaining this stability.
"These two incidents may have been incidental or may have been planned. Either way, either [event] could be a message to the relevant parties that any U.S.-Iran conflict will have implications for Lebanon, the international force [UNIFIL] and the Israeli enemy.
"Brandishing the card of the south [that is, threatening to escalate tensions in South Lebanon], or, more precisely, shifting the present balance of power, depends on how the Iran-U.S. relationship develops. It should be noted that any explosion on the southern front will be close to suicide, or to a martyrdom operation, as Hizbullah refers to suicide operations based on a fatwa by [Iran's ruling] jurisprudent.
"The 'Trumpist' escalation of the tension with Iran has been manifested in South [Lebanon]. UNIFIL is once again a Hizbullah 'hostage'. The upcoming period, leading up to Beirut's announcement of the [parliamentary] elections, will decide whether Lebanon [is headed for] anarchy or for bleak stability.
 Janoubia.com, February 5, 2017.
 The statement by UNIFIL command read: "This morning, two UNIFIL patrols in the general area of Al-Mansouri-Majdel Zoun (Sector West) were obstructed by groups of aggressive men who attempted to cause physical harm to the peacekeepers and UN assets.' It continued: "While exercising utmost restraint, UNIFIL patrol vehicles had to push aside some civilian vehicles used as roadblocks in order to safely pull out from the locations." Unifil.unmissions.org, February 3, 2017.