Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WINEP: The View from Lebanon

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy presents a 3-part series examining the status quo along the Lebanese-Israeli border two years after the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1701.

Below is an abridged version of the second article in the series, written by Nicholas Blanford, and detailing the "view from Lebanon".
Two years after the 2006 summer war, Hizballah and Israel continue to pay lip service to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 while focusing on preparations for the inevitable second round of conflict. Although Hizballah has not mounted a single border operation against Israel since the war, the Shiite organization has developed a new line of defense north of the Litani River and completed a massive, unprecedented recruitment, training, and rearmament drive.

Arms Smuggling

In September 2006, a month after the fighting ended, Hizballah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that "the resistance was able to rearm itself in a few days and is now stronger than it was on July 12," the first day of the war. By revealing the organization's renewed military strength, Nasrallah admitted tacitly that Hizballah was in breach of Resolution 1701. Paragraphs 14 and 15 of the resolution mandate the Lebanese government to secure its borders against arms smuggling and mandate other governments to prevent the sale or transfer of weapons, ammunition, equipment, and training to "entities or individuals" in Lebanon.

Although the Lebanese government has deployed about 8,000 Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops along the eastern border, Beirut is politically incapable of sealing off the frontier ... As such, a UN border assessment team reported in a August 2008 followup that the eastern "Green Border [the illegal crossings] remains as penetrable as it was during the mission of team one [in 2007]."

Buildup South of the Litani?

Hizballah's military preparations north of the Litani River and in the Bekaa Valley are well known. Vast tracts of land in this mountainous spine running north from the Litani to the lower reaches of the Barouk Mountains have been placed off-limits. The sound of explosions and machine gun fire has become commonplace in parts of the Bekaa Valley where Hizballah conducts its training.

What is less evident is the scale of Hizballah's military preparations near the southern border ... [where] Hizballah is reportedly carrying out clandestine military preparations ... In late March, an armored UNIFIL patrol attempted to stop a tractor trailer driving through the western border sector late at night, but two cars and five armed men blocked the road, allowing the truck and its unknown contents to escape. In May, UNIFIL personnel ... were attacked with stones and their passage blocked by cars when they encountered a group of men laying cables in the eastern sector of the UNIFIL area. The implication was that the cables were part of Hizballah's fiber-optic communications network...

...Civilian sources in southern Lebanon claim that Hizballah continues to provision some of its war bunkers, keeping them stockpiled and paying local residents to monitor them. The border district remains an important component of Hizballah's battle plan in a potential war with Israel, even though the organization has repositioned its front line north of the Litani. Hizballah operates discreetly near the border out of political expediency and to avoid embarrassing the LAF, which is responsible for the area's security.

Israeli Ire

Israel has complained repeatedly to the UN and UNIFIL about allegations of arms smuggling across the Lebanon-Syria border and objected that Hizballah is rebuilding its military infrastructure in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL, however, insists it has seen nothing to support the Israeli claims...

...Israel, however, would likely gain a more sympathetic ear from the UN if it were to desist from its own breaches of the resolution...

The UN's latest report on 1701 stated that UNIFIL had recorded an average of more than twenty [Israeli] violations per day in April and May, including seventy-two violations by unmanned aerial vehicles in one day alone.

In addition, despite repeated entreaties from the UN, Israel refuses to hand over the cluster bomb strike data from the 2006 war. That information would assist the effort to remove the remaining unexploded submunitions, which so far have caused over three hundred casualties.

Conclusion

Given what has transpired in Lebanon over the past two years -- both on the ground and in the air -- it would appear that Hizballah and Israel will continue to breach, and not honor, Resolution 1701. Preparing for the inevitable second round of conflict has taken priority -- for both parties -- over complying with the UN resolution.

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