According to the United Nations Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah, the mission of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is to keep both sides out of southern Lebanon and ensure that the area is solely under the control of the Lebanese government. With a new commander set to take charge of UNIFIL, Elliott Abrams takes stock of its accomplishments, or lack thereof:
In the years since the 2006 war, Hizballah has increased its strength and especially its weaponry despite UNIFIL’s existence. . . . Cynics, or realists, might well argue that UNIFIL provides Hizballah with a multinational force of human shields. That is, because Hizballah and UNIFIL troops are so close to each other physically, it would be very difficult for Israel, in another war with Hizballah, to attack without UNIFIL getting in the way.
Moreover, one need not wait for another round of fighting to see the deleterious political effect of UNIFIL on the policies of contributor nations. . . . Most of [their] governments are concerned above all about the safety of their troops, which means they do not want UNIFIL challenging Hizballah. On the contrary they wish to achieve a modus vivendi with that terrorist organization. That is one reason for the complaint, sometimes heard in southern Lebanon, that UNIFIL hires mostly pro-Hizballah people for its local support staff and as providers of other goods and services. That keeps the peace with Hizballah, at the cost of subsidizing Hizballah financially.
What would happen in southern Lebanon if UNIFIL became more aggressive in enforcing UN resolutions? There would be some confrontations with Hizballah supporters and perhaps even with heavily armed terrorist groups. Hizballah does intimidate, block, and deter UNIFIL; there is no evidence that UNIFIL intimidates, blocks, or deters Hizballah. The most recent incident occurred just a few weeks ago, . . . when “civilians” in a Hizballah-controlled area stopped a UNIFIL patrol from advancing. . . .
What would happen if UNIFIL folded, and the troops went home? Given that the presence of the UNIFIL forces is beneficial to residents of southern Lebanon—the troops can limit Hizballah’s absolute sovereignty there, and they do spend money there as well—their departure would be unpopular and would be blamed on Hizballah. . . . [The new commander] should test the limits. That will make Hizballah angry, but if Hizballah isn’t vexed by UNIFIL’s presence then we are all wasting a lot of money—$500 million a year is the UNIFIL budget—and effort supporting that organization and making believe that it is enforcing [the 2006 UN] resolution.