U.N. observers failing mandate to track Hezbollah arms, Israeli official says
U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon have failed to report on Hezbollah guerrilla armaments as required, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday, arguing that Israel could not rely on foreign intervention for its security.
The remarks underscored the conservative strategies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as instability rocks Israel's neighbors and world powers urge it to roll back its West Bank occupation to make way for Palestinian state.
“Under pressure, a multi-national force is like an umbrella that gets folded up on a rainy day,” Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu's national security adviser, said in a Tel Aviv University speech.
Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah, Amidror said, has been building its arsenal despite the 35-year presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in its heartland.
“Has Hezbollah avoided bringing any kind of rocket, missile or other arms into southern Lebanon because UNIFIL is there?” he said. Israel believes Hezbollah has amassed 60,000 rockets, including 5,000 with heavy warheads capable of hitting Tel Aviv.
“Under their (UNIFIL) mandate, they cannot stop Hezbollah and confiscate its arms, but they can write a report. There has been no UNIFIL report about any weapon of any Hezbollah person since UNIFIL has existed,” Amidror said.
As part of the U.N. ceasefire that ended Israel's inconclusive 2006 war with Hezbollah, UNIFIL's mandate was enhanced to include “assisting” the Lebanese army with keeping guerrilla “personnel, assets and weapons” out of south Lebanon.
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that since 2006, the U.N. peacekeepers had “not witnessed the entry of any illegal weapons into the UNIFIL area of operations in south Lebanon”.
While the border is largely quiet, Israel fears Hezbollah could pound it with rockets in retaliation should it carry out long-threatened strikes on Iran's nuclear sites.
Israel also worries that Hezbollah could obtain advanced weapons, including chemical munitions, from Syria. But the militia has said its current capabilities are sufficient.
In their own breach of the 2006 truce, the Israelis have regularly sent warplanes on surveillance flights over Lebanon.
Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of occupation, and from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after 38 years of occupation. Armed threats from Hezbollah in the former, and Palestinian Hamas Islamists in the latter, have been cited by Netanyahu as justifying his reluctance to give up the West Bank.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas rival who governs in the West Bank, has accused Israel of sabotaging diplomacy by peppering the territory with Jewish settlements and holding up funds for his U.S.-backed administration.
The Israelis question Abbas's ability to govern long-term.
“If there aren't the appropriate security arrangements, it would be better for Israel to go without an accord (with the Palestinians) than to have an accord that will endanger its security and could bring about a situation in which in the next war, Israel will lose,” Amidror said.
Writing by Dan Williams and Dominic Evans; Editing by Jason Webb