Israel’s Newfound Concern for UNIFIL

By Belen Fernandez

A recent article in the online edition of the Jerusalem Post states that "Israel is becoming increasingly anxious about the fate of UNIFIL if Hezbollah increases its power in upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon." Anxiety over UNIFIL’s fate was apparently not an issue in 2006 when an Israeli air strike on a UN post in Khiam killed 4 UN observers; the introduction of the word “increasingly” is thus encouraging.

Hezbollah has also been prone to bouts of worrying over the fate of Lebanon’s long-term guests, such as when UNIFIL enlisted the Party of God’s protection following a 2007 car bombing that killed 6 Spanish and Colombian troops. The bombing was attributed to Sunni militants whose proliferation in Lebanon had been encouraged by regional moderates like Fuad Siniora and the United States in order to counterbalance Iran; in other instances of convergence between radicals and moderates, Al Qaeda number two Ayman Al Zawahiri joined Israel in condemning innovative Lebanese answers to the question of who will guard the guards.

Cooperation between Hezbollah and UNIFIL was not a new phenomenon, as demonstrated by a 2006 article on MilitantIslamMonitor.org entitled “Unifil aided and abetted Hezbollah – provided detailed Israeli troop movement on website.” The article addresses claims by the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America that UNIFIL churned out real-time intelligence on Israeli coordinates during the July War while merely ambiguously noting that Hezbollah “fired rockets in large numbers from various locations.” As for more recent collaborations recorded by websites that did not contain the words “militant Islam” in the title, the Israeli Haaretz site reported in April 2008 that, according to senior sources in Jerusalem, UNIFIL was “intentionally concealing information about Hezbollah activities south of the Litani River in Lebanon to avoid conflict with the group.”

Evidence of intentional concealment was that UNIFIL soldiers had seen armed Hezbollah operatives on at least 4 occasions over the past 6 months but had failed to report them to the UN Security Council. The article described the IDF and the Israeli Foreign Ministry as being “reportedly very angry” about the lenience with which UNIFIL commander Major General Claudio Graziano approached his duties, lenience that reached new heights when the UN attempted to conceal an incident in which peacekeeping troops were threatened by Hezbollah militants in a truck full of explosives.

According to Haaretz, the response of the threatened troops had been to retreat from the vicinity of the truck, “[i]nstead of using force as required by their mandate.” Not addressed in the article was UNIFIL’s lack of resort to force in response to sonic booms regularly executed in Lebanese airspace by the IAF, or Kofi Annan’s lenience vis-à-vis Israeli apologies for “operational level” mistakes such as the targeting of UN observers at Khiam. (Previous targeting of the UN compound in Qana had also been classified as a mistake, albeit one that was Hezbollah’s fault.)

This week’s Jerusalem Post article on the fate of UNIFIL attributes sudden Israeli anxiety to the possibility that, in the event of a Hezbollah electoral victory in June, European components of the peacekeeping force might decide that they are not in fact friends of the Party of God and abandon the mission. A sudden Israeli affinity for Major General Graziano appears as an additional component of anxiety, brought on in this case by his impending resignation and the transfer of command to the Spaniards, whose Foreign Minister had not just agreed with Avigdor Lieberman that European relations with Israel were in need of strengthening. Additional indications that Spain was an unworthy partner for peace included a suggestion by José Luis Rodr

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