UN approves resolution that cuts Lebanon peacekeepers, in response to US pressure

UN approves resolution that cuts Lebanon peacekeepers, in response to US pressure
The United States approved a resolution that decreases the troop limit from 15,000 to 13,000.
4 min read
Troops have been decreased from 15,000 to 13,000 [Getty]

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday extending the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon for a year but reducing its troop ceiling from 15,000 to 13,000 in response to U.S. pressure.

The French-drafted resolution also makes another concession to the Trump administration and its close ally Israel.

It calls on the Lebanese government to facilitate “prompt and full access” to sites requested by U.N. peacekeepers for investigation, including tunnels crossing the U.N.-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel. And it urges freedom of movement and unimpeded access for peacekeepers to all parts of the Blue Line, and condemns “in the strongest terms” all attempts to restrict U.N. troop movements and attacks on mission personnel.

The resolution gives the United States a symbolic victory, but it almost certainly will also be welcomed by many countries that view the U.N. mission, known as UNIFIL, as critical to maintaining peace in the volatile region and strongly support its current mandate which is largely maintained.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 15 members of the council voted by email, with a 3 p.m. EDT Friday deadline. Soon after, the Security Council president, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, sent a letter to council members, obtained by The Associated Press, saying “the draft resolution received 15 votes in favor ... (and) has been adopted as resolution 2539."

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote to the council on July 29 recommending a 12-month renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining high troop strength.

While the resolution reduces the troop ceiling from 15,000 to 13,000, it will not require any cuts in the current peacekeeping force. That’s because UNIFIL’s current strength is about 10,250 troops, well below the ceiling.

UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion. The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah militants so that peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah, which is backed by its greatest foe Iran, of impeding the peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate, a view strongly backed by the Trump administration.

In 2019, Israel destroyed a series of what it said were attack tunnels, dug under the border by Hezbollah. The militant group battled Israel to a stalemate in a month-long war in 2006.

Israel’s former ambassador Danny Danon said in May that Israel would insist that peacekeepers have access to all sites, that they have freedom of movement, and that any time they are being blocked the Security Council must be immediately informed.

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft tweeted at the time that UNIFIL has been “prevented from fulfilling its mandate” and “Hezbollah has been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk.”

She said the Security Council “must either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish.”

The resolution recognizes “that UNIFIL has successfully implemented its mandate since 2006 and has allowed for maintaining peace and security since then,” and therefore the Security Council authorizes the reduction of the troop ceiling from 15,000 to 13,000.

The council states in the resolution that the force strength can be increased in the future in the event of “a degraded security situation.”

According to UNIFIL, it currently has about 10,250 troops including more than 9,400 ground troops and over 850 naval personnel assigned to its Maritime Task Force. In addition, the mission has about 900 civilian staff, both international and national.

The resolution affirms the Security Council’s “strong continuing commitment to the existing UNIFIL mandate.” And it reaffirms the necessity for Lebanon’s armed forces to deploy in southern Lebanon and its territorial water “at an accelerated pace” to implement a key mandate provision.

It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to present the first elements of a plan to improve UNIFIL’s “efficiency and effectiveness” within 60 days.

On another U.S. and Israeli issue, the resolution reiterates the council’s call for “the rapid finalization” of investigations into all attacks against UNIFIL in order to bring the perpetrators to justice. And it would request the secretary-general “to report to the Council, within a reasonable time frame, when such incidents occur.”

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