On August 31, 2023, as it does every year in late August, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2695 extending the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). In the weeks leading up to the vote, hectic discussions took place, involving the UNSC members, Lebanon and Israel, in attempt to agree on the language of the clause that defines the scope of UNIFIL's authority and freedom of movement. The Lebanese side sought to curtail the freedom of this force, which is tasked with overseeing the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1701 (2006), namely with ensuring that the area south of the Litani river is free of personnel and weapons of Hizbullah and other militias.
In last year's resolution extending UNIFIL's mandate (Resolution 2650), the U.S. managed to introduce a new clause stating that UNIFIL "does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks and that UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently." The introduction of this clause enraged Lebanese elements, chief of them Hizbullah. They called it a "dangerous" change and a form of "aggression" or "playing with fire" that transforms UNIFIL into an "occupying force" and legitimizes action against it.
This year, the Lebanese demanded to omit this clause, whereas Israel demanded to keep it. The U.S., the UAE and several other UNSC members sided with Israel and firmly rejected the Lebanese demand to remove the clause. Eventually, the language quoted above was left in place, but with an additional sentence, stating that UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently " while continuing to coordinate with the Government of Lebanon, as per the SOFA."
After the resolution was passed, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib said that, although Lebanon "did not get everything it wanted," it is nevertheless committed to international resolutions, including this one. He added that, in the last 12 months, nothing in UNIFIL's conduct indicated that there had been any change in the scope of its authority, which is "a point in its favor."
These remarks echo statements made by Lebanon's foreign ministry after the passing of last years' resolution extending UNIFIL's mandate. Back then, the ministry announced that it had agreed with UNIFIL's commander that there would be no change in UNIFIL's activity, and that the force would continue to operate "in coordination and cooperation" with the Lebanese security forces. The upshot is that, despite the new clause that the U.S. and its allies in the UNSC managed to add to the resolution in an attempt to strengthen UNIFIL's authority, in practice the force continues to operate as though no change has been made, and coordinates its activity with the Lebanese army and with other Lebanese authorities. The reason is presumably UNIFIL's concern that, if it acts with complete independence, its troops will be exposed to deadly attacks by Hizbullah and its local supporters, as has occurred several times in the past. The most recent incident was less than a year ago and resulted in the death of an Irish UNIFIL soldier. 
Indeed, elements in Hizbullah and in the pro-Hizbullah media warned UNIFIL after the passing of the resolution that, if it did not continue to coordinate with the army and maintain good relations with the locals in South Lebanon, it could face anger from the locals.
The issue of UNIFIL's authority and freedom of action has also been very prominent in the Lebanese public discourse. Ahead of this year's vote to extend UNIFIL’s mandate, Hizbullah elements, chief of them the head of the organization, Hassan Nasrallah, demanded to correct "last year's mistake" by removing the new clause strengthening UNIFIL’s authority, calling it a flagrant violation of Lebanon's sovereignty. Nasrallah claimed that the U.S. "wants the UNIFIL forces to serve as spies for Israel," and clarified that, if the clause was left in place, it would be treated as "mere ink on paper." He added that the people of South Lebanon would not allow to implement a UN resolution that the Lebanese government opposed. Elements close to Hizbullah reiterated this message. Ibrahim Al-Amin, editor of the pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar, for example, wrote that "the representatives of the UNSC member states have been clearly informed that neither official Lebanon nor the Lebanese people will agree to a resolution that gives UNIFIL freedom of movement without needing to coordinate with the Armed Forces. If the West continues to threaten to remove UNIFIL from South Lebanon, the answer will be simple and direct: It should go and not return!"
Conversely, Lebanese elements opposed to Hizbullah called to leave the clause in place, in order to enable UNIFIL to perform its duties effectively. Articles in the anti-Hizbullah press wondered what good UNIFIL can do if it lacks authority and if the people of South Lebanon prevent it from performing its duties, and when Hizbullah, on the other hand, is given free reign by the Lebanese government to do as it pleases south of the Litani river.
One of these articles, published in the daily Al-Jumhouriyya three days before the passing of the resolution, was by Charles Jabbour, head of the media and communications department of Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party, known for its opposition to Hizbullah. Titled "What's the Point of Extending UNIFIL's Mandate?", the article slams the international community and the UNSC for ignoring the non-implementation of UN resolutions, especially Resolution 1701, which bans the presence of any weapons and armed personnel south of the Litani excerpt for those of the Lebanese Armed Forces. In this situation, he wrote, the UNSC and UNIFIL have become a fig leaf for Hizbullah's illegal activity and in fact serve this organization instead of restraining it. UNIFIL's presence is thus pointless and even harmful, and it would be better if it left, he said.
UNIFIL troops in Lebanon (Image: Al-Nahhar, Lebanon, August 31, 2023)
The following are translated excerpts from Jabbour's article:
"…On August 31, the Security Council will debate extending UNIFIL's [mandate] at the behest of the Lebanese government. This is a farce [that is repeated] every year...
"What is the practical and essential difference between reaffirming the clause that [grants] 'freedom of movement to UNIFIL's troops and their vehicles [even] without the accompaniment or permission of the [Lebanese] Armed Forces,' as in [the resolution] passed last year [in 2022], and removing this clause and going back to the earlier version? What is the practical import of this clause in terms of UNIFIL's tasks? In practice, it changes nothing. [UNIFIL's] task stayed the same, both before and after it was granted this freedom of movement…
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"What is the point of being firm about the language [of the resolution] and at the same time being tolerant of [violations] on the ground – or, more accurately, lacking commitment to this language, especially to what is said in Resolution 1701, which explicitly demands '[the establishment] between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL deployed in this area'[?]
“The international community, which is debating the extension of UNIFIL's mandate, knows better than anyone that this clause of Resolution 1701 is not implemented and that Hizbullah is present in this area, both above and below the ground, by means of the people of the region and in other ways. [This] policy of deception harms the [international] community, which is cementing this reality and turning a blind eye to the facts and to the real situation.
"Clause 3 of Resolution 1701 speaks of 'the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 and resolution 1680, and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon.' Is this clause implemented?
"I will not elaborate on the evidence that the UN resolutions are not being implemented… But if the international community is unable to implement its resolutions, it must not [do the opposite] instead, and serve the element that prevents their implementation [i.e., Hizbullah]. The scenarios [described in the media] – involving [various] drafts, secrets behind the scenes, and firm positions [taken by the West in negotiations over the language of the resolution] – give the Lebanese the impression that the countries responsible for taking the resolution want to support them and to support their country – which is completely untrue.
"What happened after the death of the Irish [UNIFIL] soldier in December 2022 was a huge scandal, and UNIFIL covered it up even begore the Lebanese state did so. The action taken against [UNIFIL's] Irish unit conveyed the clear message that these forces must stick to their areas [of deployment] or else face the same fate. The message was understood, and the international forces acted accordingly…
"It would be more useful and dignified if the UNSC withdraws the international forces from South Lebanon, which have become like a referee without a whistle, whose task is limited to spewing rhetoric [in an attempt] to curb [the sides] and to counting their violations. What good is a referee who cannot show a red card to a player or manage the game between the two teams?
"The side that derives benefit from UNIFIL is neither Lebanon nor the Lebanese people, but rather Hizbullah, for whom UNIFIL serves as an international fig leaf…
"As for the $600 million paid every year to continue UNFIL's [operations], the Lebanese people is a more deserving recipient for them, in light of the unprecedented collapse caused by the array of weapons and corruption in Lebanon, and especially if this money goes to [UNIFIL] forces that do not perform their task according to Resolution 1701…
"The ongoing discussions in the corridors of the UN on [various] amendments and versions [of the resolution] do not interest the Lebanese people or help it in any way. They are just a charade, just like the charade of the [purported] confrontation between Hizbullah and Israel.
"It's sad that the international community is becoming a fig leaf for Hizbullah – just like France, which is interested only in appeasing the 'resistance' [in all matters], starting with the issue of [UNIFIL], out of a desire to keep its [UNIFIL] soldiers safe, and culminating in its endorsement of the [presidential] candidate favored by the resistance axis out of concern for [France’s] own interests.
"If the international community cares about the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese people, the best decision the Security Council can take is to oppose extending UNIFIL's [mandate]. Otherwise it will continue to serve the 'resistance' and its plans. [The Security Council] is wrong to suppose that, by taking a firm stance [regarding the language of the resolution]… it will be able to convince the Lebanese people that it is looking out for their interests and implementing Resolution 1701. The Security Council must either follow this resolution to the letter, or else declare that it is withdrawing the international forces [from Lebanon] because it is unable to implement the resolution. But maintaining the present situation serves the resistance in a deep and essential way, and is tantamount to deceiving the Lebanese people.
"It is time to end… the so-called annual extension of UNIFIL's [mandate]. There is no point in extending it. On the contrary, the interest of the Lebanese people will be better served by ending the mission of these forces."
 Securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s-res-2650.pdf, August 31, 2022.
 See MEMRI JTTM Report, Hizbullah Escalates Its Threats To UNIFIL Following UN Resolution To Extend Its Mandate For Another Year And Expand Its Authority, September 13, 2022.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 1, 2023.
 SOFA is the agreement between the Lebanese government and the UN on UNIFIL's status in Lebanon. It should be noted that this resolution, like last year's, also "condemns in the strongest terms all attempts to deny access or restrict the freedom of movement of UNIFIL’s personnel and all attacks on UNIFIL personnel and equipment," and "calls 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 locations of interest [and] 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." Unifil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/res_2695_2023_e.pdf, August 31, 2023.
 Al-Liwa' (Lebanon), September 1, 2023.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 11, 2022.
 On December 14, 2022, two UNFIL armored vehicles entered the South Lebanon village of Al-Aqbieh. In clashes that developed with the villagers, fire was opened on the forces, killing an Irish UNIFIL soldier and wounding three others. Many in Lebanon held Hizbullah responsible for the incident, if only indirectly. The organization itself denied the allegations and conveyed its condolences to UNIFIL. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10390 - Lebanese Journalists: Hizbullah Responsible For Death Of Irish UNIFIL Soldier – December 22, 2022. Several days later Hizbullah arrested a number of locals on suspicion of involvement in the incident, and even handed one of them over to the Lebanese Armed Forces (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 24, 2022).
In early June, a Lebanese court charged five people with the deliberate murder of the Irish soldier and the wounding of his three comrades. Several media reports claimed that the five were affiliated with Hizbullah (apnews.com, June 1, 2023). The organization, however, was quick to deny this, and, according to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, UNIFIL's commander also expressed doubt about it (Apnews.com, June 1, 2023; alaraby.co.uk, June 2, 2023; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 10, 2023).
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 4, 2023,
 Alahednews.com.lb, August 29, 2023.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), August 29, 2023.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), August 28, 2023.
 This is not an accurate quote of the relevant clause of Resolution 2650.
 In the recent months France has been involved in attempts to reach an agreement between the various sides in Lebanon on the identity of the country's next president. As part of this, it endorsed the candidate proposed by Hizbullah, namely Suleiman Frangieh, head of the Marada Movement – a move that drew criticism from the Lebanese camp opposed to Hizbullah.