US threatens veto of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon

“We should have taken decisive action long ago to protect the integrity of Resolution 1701,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

The United States has threatened to veto the annual extension of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) unless some changes are made to the organization’s mandate, Axios reported on Wednesday.

The U.S. has generally supported the UN peacekeeping force while also criticizing its failure to prevent Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and terror organization, from further establishing a military presence near the Israeli border.

“We are deeply concerned about Hezbollah’s challenges to UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, and this is unacceptable,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that the U.S. wants UNIFIL to “fully implement its mandate, consider and pursue revisions which reinforce success and recognize shortcomings.”

UNIFIL was originally established in 1978 as a temporary peacekeeping force under UN Resolutions 425 and 426, and has been renewed on a yearly basis ever since.

The UNIFIL mandate will expire on August 31 unless it is renewed by a vote in the UN Security Council.

Its original mandate was to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon and assist the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.

The mandate was expanded in 2006 under UN Resolution 1701.

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Most significantly, UNIFIL was charged with assisting the government of Lebanon to establish an area in southern Lebanon free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.

U.S. and Israeli officials have argued that UNIFIL has completely failed to fulfill its mandate to prevent armed groups like Hezbollah from freely operating on Israel’s border.

Officials have cited the discoveries of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels into Israel, the cutting of a border fence, limitations on the access and movement of UN peacekeepers by Hezbollah, and a recent attempted attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli outpost.

The U.S. is demanding several changes to UNIFIL’s mandate, including cutting the maximum troop presence from 15,000 to 11,000 and reducing the mandate’s extension period from one year to six months.

The U.S. is also pushing for the immediate implementation of recommendations from UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Guterres called for more peacekeepers to be moved near the Israel-Lebanon border and for UNIFIL’s weapons, technology, and vehicles to be upgraded.

On May 4, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the Security Council, “We should have taken decisive action long ago to protect the integrity of Resolution 1701. Instead, the council has never called out Hezbollah for its activities.”

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“As we approach the UNIFIL mandate renewal this summer, we hope that this council takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that mission can be most effective and efficient,” she said.