Last week, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched operation Northern Shield to destroy the cross-border attack tunnels Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group, has built. The tunnels were meant to occupy Israeli territory in the northern Galilee, with a pre-emptive attack on Israeli military facilities and civilians. Israel requested a United Nations (UN) inquiry into what amounts to a gross violation of resolution UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
The government of Lebanon must address the presence of Hezbollah terrorists along the border with Israel, in contravention of Resolution 1701. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), on its part, needs to perform its assigned duties of preventing Hezbollah from launching cross-border attacks, as exemplified by the cross-border attack tunnels. Unless Hezbollah’s presence is curbed, Israel will be forced to act to secure its border with Lebanon and protect the lives of its citizenry.
Resolution 1701 called for the cessation of hostilities following the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war in which the IDF engaged Hezbollah terrorists following the incursion into Israel by Hezbollah terrorists, and the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers. Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon, simultaneous with UNIFIL soldiers deploying throughout southern Lebanon, along the border with Israel.
The resolution also called for the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon including Hezbollah. No armed forces other than UNIFIL forces and the Lebanese army should be operating south of the Litani River. And, there should be no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese government. It also addressed the urgent need for the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, which were the cause of the crisis that led to the 2006 war. Resolution 1701 required all parties to respect the Blue Line, marking the international border between Israel and Lebanon.
Resolution 1701 was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on August 11, 2006. The Lebanese cabinet approved the resolution on August 12, 2006, and on the same day, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that his terrorist group would honor the call for a ceasefire. He also claimed that once the Israeli offensive stopped, Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel would stop. On August 13, 2006, the Israeli cabinet voted 24-0 in favor of the resolution (one abstention). The ceasefire effectively began on August 14, 2006, at 8AM local time.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has made clear to the Lebanese government that Lebanon might suffer the consequences of Hezbollah’s deliberate provocations and terror against Israel. Netanyahu warned (December 11, 2018) that “Whoever tries to harm the State of Israel will pay a heavy price.” He added, “Israel is operating decisively and responsibly on all fronts simultaneously. We will continue with further actions – public and clandestine – in order to safeguard the security of Israel.” U.S. National Security advisor John Bolton said that, “The U.S. strongly supports Israel’s right to defend its sovereignty,” and called on Hezbollah to “refrain from escalation and violence.”
According to the American Taskforce for Lebanon (December 11, 2018), Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that “The United States has informed Lebanon that Israel has ‘no aggressive intentions,’ adding that his country harbored none either.” Aoun added, “We are ready to remove the causes of the disagreements, but after we get the full report and decide what are the issues we need to handle.” Aoun however, is allied with Hezbollah, and is unable, unwilling, and unlikely to control the terror organization. Israel, in the meantime, has shown the UN peacekeepers the tunnels, and cited them as a violation of the ceasefire that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon war.
On Tuesday, (December 11, 2018) the UN peacekeeping force or UNIFIL confirmed the presence of two tunnels. Commander of the UNIFIL force, Major Stefano Del Col, said he met with Aoun and the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, and informed them that UNIFIL experts have inspected the two tunnels near Metulla, Israel’s northernmost town. IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus pointed out that Hezbollah’s activities represent a flagrant violation of Israeli sovereignty, and the UN resolutions.” He added, “This activity is another example of the negative effects of Iranian entrenchment in the region.” Conricus intimated that Hezbollah has been developing offensive plans against Israel that would shift the battleground into Israel. According to Conricus, Hezbollah planned to use firepower, and ground units, with the surprise element of the plan being the tunnels. This would have allowed Hezbollah terrorist infiltrators into Israel.
With the war in Syria coming to an end, it is apparent that Iran is seeking ways to open up a front against Israel, albeit, not directly, but rather through its proxy – the Hezbollah. Moreover, as the war winds down in Syria, thousands of Hezbollah fighters are preparing their return to Lebanon, and it is quite clear that Nasrallah intends to use them against Israel. Nasrallah knows full well that if he provoked a war with Israel, Israel might cause even greater devastation to Lebanon this time, even more than it did in 2006. Nasrallah wants to operate on Israeli soil as a justification in case Israel deals a devastating blow to Lebanon, so that he can say “I tried to bring the war to the enemy.” The tunnels were the tools for Nasrallah and his masters in Tehran to take the war to Israel, and Iran increased its aid to Hezbollah to cover the costs of the tunnel building.
Israel, for the most part, refrained from getting involved in the Syrian civil war. As Iran sought to extend the Shiite crescent into the Mediterranean Sea, and has incrementally encroached on the border of Israel in the Golan, Israel has attacked Iranian missile sites in Syria, and foiled sophisticated arms shipments to Hezbollah. Hamas terrorists in Gaza are a nuisance that creates a serious problem for Israeli residents of the Western Negev. Hamas does not however, pose a serious a threat to Israel as a whole. Hezbollah, on the other hand, does constitute a significant threat with its 150,000 missiles that can reach all corners of the Jewish state.
While neither Israel nor the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists are interested in a full-scale war at this time, any incident around the border can flare up into a major war. The Lebanese army must take charge of the border area with Israel, and Aoun’s government must somehow compel Hezbollah to withdraw from the border area. Chances for this to happen are slim to say the least. It is therefore incumbent upon the UN to condemn Hezbollah’s violation of Israel’s sovereignty, and to charge the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon (along the border with Israel) with enforcing the ceasefire agreement and not merely observe the two sides passively. It means beefing up UNIFIL’s capabilities, and responsibilities. Should Hezbollah continue its provocations and force Israel’s hand, it is the UN that must take full responsibility for its inaction.