Key U.N. Official Admits To Concern Over Arms Flowing To Hezbollah in Lebanon
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UNITED NATIONS — The next contretemps here is going to erupt over what is a small step for the World Body that has major implications for the future of Israel’s security – the admission today by a the top United Nations official in Lebanon that he has “concerns” about the ability of a multinational force deployed there to monitor and prevent the flow of arms to Hezbollah.
After briefing the Security Council today, Secretary General Ban’s special envoy to Beirut, Michael Williams, a Briton, admitted the obvious: several recent incidents prove the presence of arms south of Lebanon’s Litani River in violation of Security Council resolutions. He added that speeches carried by the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, force him to “assume that there’s weaponry smuggled into the country.”
Jerusalem has long argued that despite the deployment of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon in the aftermath of its 2006 war against Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terror organization is now more heavily-armed than ever, with tens of thousands warheads aimed at major Israeli population centers. But to date no U.N. official acknowledged knowing anything about such arming, which would constitute a violation of Security Council resolutions.
Israel is now entering a period of difficult negotiations with the Obama administration – and perhaps later with the Palestinian Authority – about its future relations with a proposed Palestinian Arab state. Washington is urging the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government to first negotiate over the borders of the new state, including the thorny dispute over the Jordan River Valley. In the past, Israel has tentatively agreed to a deployment of a multinational force there. Backed by the U.N., such a force would replace the Israeli settlements and troops that currently prevent any major shipment of Iranian or Syrian arms through Jordan to West Bank-based terror groups like Hamas.
But Israel has had a bad experience in Lebanon, where mostly European countries sent a similar 15,000 troops in 2006. A “strong” Security Council mandate promised that UNIFIL, alongside the Lebanese army, would monitor and secure a strict ban on arms possession by local militias including, most notably, Hezbollah.
As of now, as the Lebanese ambassador here, Nawaf Salam, told reporters today, UNIFIL’s official position is that to date it has found “no evidence” of illicit arms in its area of jurisdiction south of the Litani – despite at least three major explosions that rocked southern villages recently, indicating the presence of weapon caches.
An Israeli drone that flew over the area on September 3 documented blow by blow the latest such explosion, which occurred at the heart of the village Shahabiye. Shortly after the explosion, presumed Hezbollah operatives transferred the remains of the weapons cache to a near-by building – and then shipped them on trucks to the neighboring village of Nabatyie.
UNIFIL, according to a written report Mr. Williams handed to the Security Council today, “did not have an immediate and unimpeded access” to the site of the explosion. In fact, two full days passed before UNIFIL was able to finally examine the site. By then, of course, all evidence disappeared, and by the time the troops finally managed to complete their investigation “they could not detect any evidence of arms or munitions,” according to the report.
But as Mr. Williams told the closed-door council session, the September 3 incident “is an apparent explosion” which “presumably was caused by ordnance of some sort.” Also, Mr. Williams told me, he has major “concerns” about UNFIL’s access to the site. “It would seem to me to be far too delayed,” he said, adding that this and previous incidents “clearly” prove the existence of weapons caches in the area under UNFIL’s jurisdiction.
UNIFIL’s mandate calls for all inspections to be coordinated with the Lebanese Army. But the army is composed of a Shiite majority, and many of its troops that are deployed in the south are related by blood or close friendships to Hezbollah members. Even if the European troops were intent on risking their lives to uncover illicit weapons, therefore, they would have a hard time coordinating successful inspections.
As Mr. Williams said, the Lebanese-Israeli border is much calmer now than at any time before Security Council resolution 1701 ended the 2006 war. But as the multinational force allows Hezbollah to arm, the calm is increasingly threatened, and its aftermath looks more apocalyptic than ever.