Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said his government is demanding major changes to UN peacekeeping in Lebanon, in a video press briefing yesterday, AP reports.
Danon told reporters that Israel’s government, with US support, will insist on altering the way the UN peacekeeping mission, known as UNIFIL, in southern Lebanon operates. Israel will demand peacekeepers have access to all sites, freedom of movement and inform the UN Security Council any time they are blocked.
Israel has repeatedly claimed Hezbollah has prevented peacekeepers from performing their duties.
“We have seen that slowly there is less places that the troops in the peacekeeping operation can actually travel in southern Lebanon… so we want them to have full freedom of movement,” Danon said.
Danon also claimed Hezbollah officials have barred UNIFIL troops from entering some sites, saying, “we proved in the past that Hezbollah are digging tunnels, they are bringing weapons to the border, and only in the last few weeks have had a few incidents at the border.”
Israel will continue to push for reforms before the UNIFIL mandate is renewed in the summer, Danon says, and will call for the peacekeeping operation to become less expensive and more efficient.
“If they are not effective, why are we spending so much money on the troops?” AP quoted Danon as saying.
“We are not calling to shut down the mission tomorrow morning, but we are saying if they cannot change, if they cannot function, why are you spending so much money? We don’t want to send the troops back to their countries, but we want them to become more efficient.”
The UNIFIL force was first established to oversee the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion. The peacekeeping forces’ mandate was extended in 2006, after hostilities erupted over the UN demarcated Blue Line between Israeli forces and Lebanese Hezbollah, resulting in a 34-day war.
The UNIFIL force, which now comprises more than 9,400 ground troops and over 850 naval personnel in a Maritime Task Force, helped the Lebanese Army establish a secure zone in southern Lebanon, and has continued to act as a peacekeeping mission between the two countries.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks, however, after a series of incursions into Lebanese airspace by Israeli warplanes.
On 14 April, Lebanese Army soldiers and Israeli troops faced off along the border over reports the latter had crossed the Blue Line. UNIFIL soldiers positioned themselves between the two soldiers, leading the Israeli soldiers to retreat.