Israel is lobbying to have the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission in southern Lebanon reduced in size, saying that the organization collaborates with Hezbollah.
"The UN is in fact collaborating with a terrorist organization," says a political source in Jerusalem. "This is an intolerable situation, when the UN speaks at the same time of fighting terror."
In diplomatic meetings with the U.S. and France in the past weeks, a series of complaints about UNIFIL were brought up: The UN force maintains a permanent dialogue with Hezbollah, chiefly because of UNIFIL's own interest in survival; in many places along the Israel-Lebanon border, Hezbollah has posts and positions adjacent to UNIFIL positions; deployment of the force serves as an excuse for the Lebanese government not to deploy in the south, as required by UN Security Council resolutions; and UNIFIL treats the IDF as equivalent to the Hezbollah terrorist organization when reporting violations of the cease-fire.
The Israeli violations are mostly flights over Lebanon's skies, which are "few and insignificant," the political source said.
Israel's position is that, given the political changes in Lebanon, it is time to reevaluate UNIFIL's size and mission, ahead of the periodic discussion in the UN on extending its mandate, which will take place in January. Israel is not demanding that the organization be completely dismantled and, the political source says, "UNIFIL will be closed when Lebanon realizes it doesn't need it anymore, but there is still cause for a gradual reduction process."
France rejected the Israeli position. French government officials told the Israeli ambassador in Paris, Nissim Zvili, that UNIFIL's mandate allows it to maintain ties with "all sides," including Hezbollah, and that the force fulfills a "stabilizing role" and that reducing it would not help achieve stability in the region. The U.S. administration prefers to coordinate its position on Lebanon with France and not to upset the sensitive Lebanese political structure.
UNIFIL was created in 1978, after the Litani campaign, and has been deployed on the Lebanese side of the border ever since. Currently, UNIFIL has 2,000 soldiers and 50 observers, backed up by a force of 400 civilian workers.
According to the political source in Jerusalem, at the last semiannual discussion about UNIFIL in the Security Council, which took place in July, a resolution was passed calling on Lebanon to exercise its sovereignty and take responsibility for the southern border, and instructed the UN secretary general to assist in this. Israel wants the change to be reflected on the ground as well.
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