There is nothing new in the recent statements made by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Halley, in which she stressed the need to amend the mandate of the international force -UNIFIL - operating in southern Lebanon. The statement Haley issued on Tuesday echoes previous positions aimed at accommodating a constant ‘Israeli' demand: the push towards a direct confrontation between UNIFIL and the resistance.
What is new in the statement, however, came in response to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's letter to members of the Security Council informing them that he intends to seek ways to strengthen UNIFIL's efforts in relation to the "illegal presence" of armed individuals, weapons, and military infrastructure within UNIFIL's area of operations in southern Lebanon.
Haley explained that during a discussion session to extend the mandate of UNIFIL for an additional year [31 August], the United States will demand that "UNIFIL carry out its mission and investigate Hezbollah's violations in its area of operations". She added that the US "shares the Secretary-General's strong desire to improve UNIFIL's efforts to prevent the proliferation of illegal weapons in southern Lebanon, which are in the possession of Hezbollah terrorists and threaten the security and stability of the region."
This means that the ‘Israeli' demand raised to Haley during her recent visit to ‘Israel' and the [‘Israeli'] insistence on changing the rules of engagement and amending the mandate of the international force have already been put on track by pushing the UN Secretary-General to adopt the premises of the amendment process. The above indicates that the discussion session later this month will be different - or at least, ‘Israel' and the United States want it to be different from the previous meetings - during which the Security Council would automatically and without any controversy extend the mandate of UNIFIL without any amendment to any item of resolution 1701 and its implementation mechanism. This mechanism has been in place for 11 years and aims to help the Lebanese army impose its sovereignty over the area south of the Litani River, at its request.
Based on the Secretary-General's letter and statements made earlier by ‘Israel' and the United States, it is clear that the amendment of UNIFIL's mandate is the next point of debate during the upcoming UNIFIL extension meeting later this month. During her recent visit to ‘Israel' Haley warned that "UNIFIL would either achieve the objectives of confronting Hezbollah and preventing its military buildup in its area of operations or it would become obsolete."
Despite the skepticism of experts and research centers in ‘Israel' regarding Tel Aviv's and Washington's ability to "amend" [UNIFIL's mandate] - which stems from a wide range of Lebanese internal constraints as well as the countries participating in the international force, making it difficult to imagine compatibility with ‘Israeli' and American desires - ‘Israel' with American encouragement [and even bidding on its behalf] is insistent in trying.
In a speech delivered by the Chief of Staff of the ‘Israeli' army Gadi Eizenkot at the Herzliya conference last June, which was the starting point of ‘Israel's' attempt to force the international force to confront Hezbollah, Eizenkot referred to what he called "Tel Aviv's political quest" to distance Hezbollah from the south of the Litani River. At the time, he pointed out that Hezbollah is violating Resolution 1701 and increasing its military deployment in the area of UNIFIL operations. In the wake of the speech, the ‘Israeli' approach, and in particular that of the senior officers in Tel Aviv, began to focus on UNIFIL's mission and its failure to achieve the objective of resolution 1701 - confronting Hezbollah. In addition, a series of Hebrew reports emphasized the need to amend the mandate of the international force and adopt mechanisms that allow it to confront Hezbollah.
Reinforcing the mechanism and possibilities of implementing the international resolution according to ‘Israeli' desires was prevented by the Lebanese army's failure to comply with the resolution's stated terms, which make it compulsory for the Lebanese military establishment to confront the resistance. The attitude of the Lebanese army and its refusal to comply also explains the series of Hebrew statements and reports that attacked the army, calling it "an enemy" and "a legitimate target" for the ‘Israeli' army in the coming war.
The requested ‘Israeli' and US amendments to Resolution 1701 are linked to the implementation mechanism that has been in place for 11 years: UNIFIL's mission is to assist the Lebanese army in establishing its sovereignty. It is a mechanism rejected by ‘Israel' and the United States. The amendment focuses on "pursuing the weapons of the resistance and confronting it", with another amendment to be implemented, namely to enable UNIFIL to move freely, without coordinating with the Lebanese army and without needing its prior permission. This means, practically, placing Resolution 1701 under Chapter VII without mentioning it in the text - a complete disregard to Lebanon, its institutions, its decisions and its sovereignty.
This is what ‘Israel' and the United States are trying to impose on Lebanon, on the countries participating in the international force, and on the mechanisms of implementation of resolution 1701, that is, the task of confronting the resistance on behalf of ‘Israel' following the failure of a direct ‘Israeli' confrontation.
In Guterres's letter to the Security Council, it was stated that "despite the relative calm and stability, for a long time along the Blue Line, ‘Israel' nor Lebanon fulfilled their obligations under Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Hezbollah-‘Israel' war." The Secretary-General of the United Nations added that "'Israel' must withdraw its forces from Lebanese territory and stop violations of Lebanese airspace, and the Lebanese government should exercise effective authority on all its territory, and disarm all armed groups." These words, balanced carefully, have not been noticed by the United States ambassador, as she will attempt not to take any note of them in the Council's discussions later this month. Of course, the US administration will not take a stand against ‘Israel's' violations. But through its United Nations ambassador, it seeks to legitimize and give the ‘Israelis' a blank cheque since it views the ‘Israeli' violations a legitimate right. The emphasis is on trying to create a confrontation between the international force and the resistance, and getting UNIFIL to fight on behalf of its ally, ‘Israel.'