Israel’s efforts to secure its northern border have entered the diplomacy stage. The IDF’s Operation Northern Shield began nearly a month ago as a series of missions to destroy cross-border attack tunnels that it says were dug by the militant Shiite group Hezbollah. According to official IDF sources, “a number of tunnels” had penetrated Israeli territory and forces had begun working on the Israeli side of the frontier to destroy them.
Until now, Israel’s engagement with the international community regarding Northern Shield had been strictly on the operational side, from dispatching military delegations to Moscow to brief the Russians on the ongoing operations, to sending combat engineer operators to train in excavation techniques in Europe.
Now Israel’s efforts have shifted to a more aggressive-diplomacy mode.
Recently, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), UN’s deployment charged with maintaining order in the region between Israel and Lebanon, announced an upcoming official meeting to discuss the security situation.
According to reports, UNIFIL will host representatives from the IDF and the Lebanese Armed Forces to discuss the cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah into northern Israel as well as “other violations of UN Security Council” edicts. The violations referred to were those of Resolution 1701, the UN declaration that officially ended the Second Lebanon War back in 2006.
The basic thrust of Resolution 1701 was to bring the control of the Lebanese state back to southern Lebanon. In addition to requiring the full withdrawal of Israeli forces, the Resolution also demanded the complete “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.” This meant essentially the disbanding of Hezbollah as a fighting organization. Of course Lebanon never had the wherewithal or the will to carry out this requirement. After adoption of the resolution, Lebanese defense officials bluntly stated that “the army won’t be deployed to south Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah.”
For the past twelve years, the very existence of Hezbollah has been a violation of Resolution 1701. But neither the Lebanese government or UNIFIL has been interested in addressing this. The revelation of the Hezbollah’s tunnels, however, has shown just how problematic the militant group is, not just from the perspective of Israel’s security, but for the stability of southern Lebanon. On 27 December, Israeli authorities released footage of severe flooding in the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. The flooding was the result of the Israeli military pumping Hezbollah’s tunnels with special cement-like material in order to render them untraversable. The material eventually welled up at the other ends of the tunnels inside the village. This proved unequivocally that Hezbollah has been using civilian locations in order to lay their infrastructure. Apparently this was a step too far, even for the relatively pacifist UNIFIL. As the IDF put forth in a statement following the discovery, the “fact indicates Hezbollah’s use of civilian structures in the heart of an urban area in southern Lebanon […] endangers its citizens by using them as human shields” and is the most “flagrant violation of Resolution 1701” yet.
Some Welcomed Support
Internationally, the responses Israel has received on the operation have been largely positive. Even countries not typically the most ardent champions of Israel have come out in support. While it is highly unlikely the UNIFIL meeting will result in any substantial loss on Hezbollah’s part, the Israelis can use the upcoming conference for their political advantage. The fact that the UN mission to Lebanon has essentially sided with Israel on this one will give Jerusalem more leverage and flexibility in dealing with their dangerous enemy to the north.