Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 4, 2020
It’s hard to believe we’re already in May now. We’re looking forward to a really robust schedule and hopefully all returning back to New York. And also, thank you, Special Coordinator and Under Secretary, for your briefings. I’d also like to express our gratitude to UNIFIL, Observer Group Lebanon, and all troop-contributing countries.
The United States is closely following the situation in Lebanon, which finds itself in an unprecedented crisis. The need for reform – reform that provides economic opportunity and ends corruption – is especially acute given the extraordinary economic and public health challenges now facing the country. The Trump Administration remains committed to its partnership with Lebanon, and it is because of our commitment that we want to see UNIFIL operate as an effective force.
But to make the Mission effective, we must be clear-eyed about what is really happening in southern Lebanon. The truth is that Hizballah openly flaunts its weaponry; flagrantly disregards Resolution 1701; and, for all intents and purposes, dictates to UNIFIL where and when it can patrol. Instead of working with the UN and the Security Council to address these manifest problems, the Government of Lebanon is preventing the Mission from fulfilling its mandate by denying it access to sites inside its area of operations.
For example, UNIFIL is still being kept out of sites associated with the September 1, 2019 attack and tunnel sites discovered over a year ago. Lest we forget, Resolution 1701’s primary purpose was to ensure that the area south of the Litani River would be kept free of any armed personnel, assets, and weapons. But now, we see UNIFIL barred from the places it used to patrol and prevented from inspecting sites clearly used for military activity. Often, the explanation given is that these areas are “private property.” This pretext is absurd, and prevents UNIFIL from discharging its mandate.
Moreover, it is appalling that during the most recent reporting period, there were 13 incidents where UNIFIL was prevented – often violently – from carrying out its mandate. It is clear enough to anyone willing to look that this Mission is not working as intended.
Hizballah has been able to arm itself and expand operations despite UNIFIL’s presence. It puts the Lebanese people at risk by stockpiling munitions, digging tunnels for terrorist fighters, building factories to upgrade its rockets, and using women and children as shields in assaults on UNIFIL peacekeepers. Hizballah is no friend of peace.
We should have taken decisive action long ago to protect the integrity of Resolution 1701. Instead, the Council has never called out Hizballah for its activities.
We should not measure UNIFIL’s success solely in the terms of the quantity or frequency of operational activities. To be sure, the Tripartite Mechanism, Maritime Task Force, and troop presence along the Blue Line help maintain stability. But patrols and checkpoints are of plainly limited use when offending parties can simply hide weapons and tunnel entrances on so-called “private property.”
It is not acceptable for the Council to simply push off its collective responsibility in this matter. The time has come to either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL, or to realign UNIFIL’s staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish. As agreed by all Member States in our Declaration on Action for Peacekeeping, we must seek measures to improve coherence between mandates and resources.
Further, despite Resolution 2485’s request for an enhanced annex on the implementation of the arms embargo, the annex doesn’t appear to have changed at all. Accurate reporting is critical to efforts to ensure implementation of the arms embargo. We remind all Member States that, pursuant to Resolution 1701, they are obligated to prevent the sale or supply, to any entity or individual in Lebanon, of arms and related materiel of all types, with the exception of those authorized by the Government of Lebanon or by UNIFIL.
As we approach the UNIFIL mandate renewal this summer, we hope that this Council takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that mission can be most effective and efficient. The United States also looks forward to the Secretary General’s assessment of the mission. We expect that it will provide an honest account of the challenges the Mission faces, and that it will provide proposals for what can be done to improve the force.