Lebanon’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he supported renewing the mandate of U.N. peacekeeping forces in the country for another year, amid U.S. and Israeli criticism that they should do more to stop Hezbollah smuggling in arms.
“Preserving the mandate of @unifil is necessary for peace and stability, otherwise will jeopardize efforts of @UN,” Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Twitter.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrols Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Its annually renewed mandate was expanded from the original 1978 mission following a 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.
This tasked UNIFIL with making sure southern Lebanon was “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than those belonging to the Lebanese government or UNIFIL.
Israel has regularly complained that UNIFIL has failed to enforce the 2006 ceasefire and would like to see stronger action against Hezbollah military deployment that Israel alleges is taking place in violation of the ceasefire.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called in an August newspaper column for UNIFIL to be able to inspect Lebanese towns more stringently and insist on unlimited access to all suspicious sites.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday criticized UNIFIL’s head, Irish Major General Michael Beary, accusing him of an “embarrassing lack of understanding” in not uncovering Iranian arms supply to Hezbollah.
Israeli officials want UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to act against Hezbollah by uncovering hidden weapons and emplacements, of which they say there are thousands that Israel has mapped.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday raised the issue in a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying the U.N. has failed to report any of the “tens of thousands of weapon smugglings into Lebanon for Hezbollah.”
The U.N. Security Council will vote on renewing the mandate this week before it expires on Thursday.
“We are not looking to change the mandate itself. We are looking to include language that clearly directs UNIFIL to do what it should have been doing for years,” Haley said.
A UNIFIL spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.