Yesterday afternoon, near the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, a roadside bomb was detonated beside a four-vehicle UN troop convoy. Six French UN peacekeepers were injured, echoing a similar attack in May at almost exactly the same spot that injured six Italian peacekeepers.
UNIFIL was expanded in 2006 as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which marked the conclusion of the Israel-Hezbollah war. Approximately 12,000 peacekeepers work with 15,000 Lebanese soldiers in south Lebanon to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah. Hezbollah has had little difficulty circumventing UNIFIL and the LAF over the five-year interim since the war and has resupplied itself well beyond its original armaments level.
Israeli defense officials say that the violence now being directed toward UNIFIL personnel reflects Hezbollah’s anxiety over the possible revision of the terms of UNIFIL’s mandate, which is due for renewal in August. As the Jerusalem Post notes, Israel has been trying for some time to convince UNIFIL participant countries to get the UN to broaden the force’s rules of engagement. What Israel has in mind is for UNIFIL to have the ability to search Lebanese villages without prior coordination with the Lebanese army.
This is not as threatening to Hezbollah as it sounds, since any such UN directive would not come into effect until it was approved by the Lebanese government — a government now controlled, for the most part, by Hezbollah. Still, the prospect is alarming enough to have prompted Hezbollah to up the ante with direct intimidation. Italy has begun to “look into” reducing its UNIFIL contingent; no word yet on the French response to yesterday’s attack.
The defense department interpretation makes perfect sense, but there’s a wider context to consider as well. First, Hezbollah — which very much wants the UN indictments of four Hezbollah members for Rafik Hariri’s assassination to go away — is reminding the UN how ugly they can get when they choose. Second, Hezbollah wants to cow the UN into accepting its version of the maritime border with Israel, which will have huge consequences as far as the natural gas deposits are concerned and over which the rhetoric has been getting more and more heated. And third, Hezbollah is doing some biceps flexing on behalf of its Iranian sponsor, which has been busy of late threatening both the US and Turkey over their positions on Syria. Hezbollah is one of the long arms of Teheran, which is capable not only of helping Assad slaughter Syrian citizens but of exploding UNIFIL convoys in Sidon, should it deem such a tactic expedient.