UNIFIL's failure to halt Hezbollah's tunnel construction reflects inherent institutional bias
March 8, 2019
While the United Nations Interim Front in Lebanon has emphasized Israel’s protection from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, newfound evidence has demonstrated otherwise. UNIFIL is an international peacekeeping effort created to initiate Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 1978, but has evolved to promote stability within the Lebanese and Israeli governments. However, Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, has evidently resisted the porous authority of UNIFlL, due to their active construction of elaborate tunnels under the Israeli border.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based terrorist organization, is heavily backed by Iran financially and militarily. While the establishment has made recent strides in obtaining seats in the Lebanese parliament, it is not an accurate reflection of the government. The organization’s violent, Shiite militant attitude not only seeks to terrorize Israel, but the United States and much of the Western world, as well. Overwhelmingly, Hezbollah’s military continues to increase in influence over Beirut and continues to act as its own separate entity rather than a representation of the Lebanese people who are greatly affected by the organization’s destruction.
While the idea of constructing tunnels under Israel’s border may seem harmless, the threat of such actions are a massive threat to Israel’s national security and welfare for Israelis. The border separating Israel and Lebanon, also known as the Blue Line, has shown to have several tunnels claimed by Hezbollah, which is an immediate violation of UNIFIL regulations and border sovereignty. UNIFIL’s annual budget of $500 million does not appear to alleviate the long-standing conflict within the Israeli-Lebanese border. The threat of these terror tunnels to Israeli society was previously disregarded by the majority of the international community, but further examination and presentation of evidence by the Israeli Defense Forces reveals the true intentions of Hezbollah’s operation. Israeli politicians have noted that Hezbollah’s territorial intrusion into Northern Israel’s border is a blatant violation of the United Nation Security Resolution 1701, which entails border sovereignty and protection against intrusion. Notably, Hezbollah has also shown to smuggle weapons and other mechanisms of terror through these tunnels with the sole purpose of threatening Israeli society. To international dismay, the United Nations allegedly just became aware of this issue, despite it continuing for years. Within these years of continuation, the Israeli military can only accomplish so much for national defense, despite UNIFIL’s promises to work with Israel to protect their sovereignty. These tunnels are primarily used as entryways into Israeli territory in order to orchestrate inconspicuous civilian attacks through Hezbollah.
On Dec. 4, 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Operation Northern Shield, a military initiative to identify and destroy Hezbollah tunnels constructed under the border. Operation Northern Shield was completed Jan. 13, 2019. This initiative was Israel’s most recent response to the Lebanese government and Hezbollah’s violations of Israel’s sovereignty, and given the international community’s newborn awareness of the tunnel dilemma, Israel will have to continue gathering evidence to sway the UN’s stance in their favor due to institutional bias.
Although the IDF has recently discovered nearly four tunnels within the Northern Israeli border in just the month of December, the tunnel tactic is certainly not exclusive to Hezbollah. Similar operations are conducted by Hamas within the Gaza Strip. The UNRWA, a refugee agency for Palestinians, discovered a Hamas attack tunnel underneath two Palestinian elementary schools in mid-2017, which was immediately relayed to the IDF. Coincidentally, these elementary schools are UNRWA-funded. Israel’s military comeback is to install explosives within the burrow in order to rid the tunnel of any intruders or harmful devices that may make its way into Israel.
Unsurprisingly, Israel has taken the construction of such tunnels extremely seriously, given its imminent threat to the Israeli people living just next to the Northern and Southern borders. Evidently, the United Nations has not taken these threats as seriously, which is no surprise given their reactions to past events with Lebanon and UNIFIL. One of the IDF’s many responses to the tunnel epidemic is the installation of military robots near these tunnels that not only film inside the tunnel, but also emits an explosive in order to deter enemy intrusions. Such measures lessen military casualties, in conjunction with providing ample evidence to international organizations to educate the community on the severity of this situation.
Despite UNIFIL’s pledge to reduce belligerency between Beirut and Jerusalem, the interim front has done little to protect Israel’s borders from Hezbollah’s tunnel intrusion. Until recently, this issue has been largely ignored by not only UNIFIL, but much of the developed world. A major reason for such recent awareness is Netanyahu’s announcement of Operation Northern Shield, which is the official military initiative against these terror tunnels. Overall, Israel has consistently prioritized the safety and security of Israel as well as maintained open communication with the international community to allow others to gain awareness on this dilemma.
As evidence shows, if the actions of Hezbollah’s tunnel construction and UNIFIL’s inability to deter such actions continues, the relationship between the United Nations and Israel will not improve. The UN should comply with the resolutions made with UNIFIL and be cognizant of relations between Israel and Lebanon and maintain their promise of keeping the peace. However, the future to the end of such animosity is bleak due to the United Nations’ institutional bias towards the State of Israel. If the UN fails to acknowledge their institutional bias and work with Israel, then relations will fail to improve.
Emily Aspinwall is the vice president of UCF’s Knights for Israel and the campus CAMERA fellow for the 2018-2019 school year.