|Hezbollah, 2006 [Image Sources]|
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL [background here], was created in 1978 to restore peace and security in the area of the Israel/Lebanon border, and to help Lebanon's government re-assert its authority on the Lebanese side of that border. Various combinations of national troops serving under the UN flag have served there since March 1978. They do this under a mandate renewed annually by the UN Security Council; the mandate expires on 31 August 2013.
Following the intense fighting in 1976 between Israel and the Hezbollah forces (here we call that the Second Lebanese War), the UNSC passed Resolution 1701 to end that phase of the still-continuing conflict. We wrote a lot during the period of that war; you might want to review "31-Jul-06: Additional Reasons Never to Turn Your Back on these Thugs" as an illustration of how things looked then.
Resolution 1701 enlarged the number of forces under UNIFIL command to 15,000. They were to be deployed south of Lebanon's Litani River, close to and on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel, and to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces address the task euphemistically called "implement the Lebanese government's sovereignty". UNIFIL was mandated to “take all the necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems with its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind." [source]
This never really worked out as the world - OK, Israel - thought it would. That much was almost immediately clear when Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the UN, declared in August 2006 that UNIFIL would refrain from intercepting arms shipments from Syria unless requested to do so by Lebanon. Meanwhile Lebanon became de facto a captive of Hezbollah and Syria's influence on Lebanese affairs became more open and blatant. Hezbollah flaunted the UN's decision (see this list) as well as the presence of UN forces, and quietly but very steadily and determinedly built up a vast resource of offensive weapons that it pointed at Israel from deeply embedded emplacements in the villages of South Lebanon.
We're now nearly seven years later. Seven weeks ago, Israel's ambassador to the UN sent a letter to the Ban Ki Moon and to the president of the Security Council demanding that Resolution 1701 be enforced. But the influence of the UN and its UNIFIL forces on events, particularly on preserving the peace and implementing the Lebanese government's sovereignty, is pretty largely treated as a joke in these parts.
But not a very funny joke as the following report from Ron Ben-Yishai, Yediot Aharonot's respected observer of such matters, shows. It was posted on the Ynet site late last night.
Ynet February 10, 2013
In January, looking into south Lebanon, I noticed that hundreds of new buildings had been built in Bint Jbeil, Maroun al-Ras, Aita al-Shaab and Barmish. Even without binoculars it was evident that the Shiite communities have expanded significantly compared with the few Christian-Maronite villages in the area, which remained the same size. Hizbullah has moved from its bases in "nature preserves" to the villages from which it can launch rocket or other attacks against Israel.
Hizbullah purchased land on the outskirts of the villages, built homes and offered them to poor Shiite families at bargain prices, on condition that a rocket launcher would be placed in one of the rooms or in the basement, along with a number of rockets, which will be fired at predetermined targets in Israel when the order is given.
In addition, Hizbullah has set up camouflaged defense positions in villages which contain advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles it had received from Syria. Hizbullah has also planted large explosive devices along the access roads. In this manner some 180 Shiite villages between the Zahrani River and the border with Israel have been converted into fighting zones for the next conflict with Israel... Despite the fact that there are those in Israel who claim that the deterrence achieved against Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War has been eroded, it is fairly clear that at this point Nasrallah's organization does not want to get involved in a major conflict with the Jewish state. Lebanon's national elections are scheduled for June, and Hezbollah does not want its political legitimacy and dominance to be challenged because it dragged the country into a devastating war with Israel. There is enough tension and violent clashes between Shiites and the Lebanese Sunnis, who are assisting the Syrian rebels trying to topple Assad. However, it is also possible that Hezbollah will decide to attack us with full force if it gets the impression that Israel is planning to attack it first. As strange as it sounds to Israelis ears, Hezbollah sees us as an unpredictable and treacherous country that is capable of launching a preemptive surprise attack. (more)
The next conflict with Israel. It's an expression you hear a lot. We don't know many (any) Israelis who want to see that happen, but when you watch the speeches of Nasrallah, the goose-stepping, Heil Hitler-style saluting of his troops, the IDF intelligence estimates of how many tens of thousands of rockets they have in their control in a thousand different locations in those south Lebanese villages - all pointing in our direction - it doesn't leave much room for optimism.