The Future of UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon

Why Their Job Is Largely Meaningless

U.N peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) wear face masks while they monitor the Lebanese-Israeli border during a sandstorm in Kfar Kila village, in south Lebanon, September 2015. Aziz Taher / REUTERS

At the end of last month, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to extend its peacekeeping force in Lebanon by another year. Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, described it as “a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation.” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the decision signaled a rejection of the status quo and would thus provide the peacekeepers the “power and will” to do the job. Unfortunately, the resolution will do none of those things. Such claims simply demonstrate a failure to understand the limits of peacekeeping and the complexities of Lebanese politics.

First, some historical background is warranted: in 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon, where Palestinians had been launching attacks on Israel. In response to the fighting, the UN initiated a peacekeeping operation—the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The operation’s 6,000 peacekeepers were tasked with helping to restore peace, confirming the withdrawal of the Israeli army, and assisting the Lebanese government to reassert its control in the area. After fighting broke out again in 2006, the Security Council increased the size of UNIFIL to over 13,000 peacekeepers, but its objectives remained for the most part the same.

The operation currently has about 10,500 peacekeepers from 41 different countries who, nearly 40 years after the creation of UNIFIL, are still trying to accomplish essentially the same goals. The Israeli forces are on their side of the border, and there has not been major conflict in 11 years, but that does not mean war will not return. Southern Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, another group that threatens Israel, not the Lebanese government. That means the current peace is largely an illusion, as is the ability of the peacekeepers to maintain it.

In addition to extending the peacekeepers’ mandate for one more year, the UN resolution included a request to the Secretary General to look at ways “to increase UNIFIL’s visible presence, including through patrols and inspections, within its existing mandate and capabilities.” It also reaffirmed the authorization for UNIFIL “to

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