Amid increasing tension in the North, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a report to the Security Council on Friday warning that strident rhetoric from Hezbollah and Israel could spiral into “miscalculation and escalation into conflict.”
Guterres, who visited Israel in August, did not confirm Israel’s claims that the terrorist organization was arming itself in southern Lebanon, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
He said that although there are regular allegations of arms transfers to Hezbollah, the UN “is not in a position to substantiate them independently.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in an interview in September that while Israel is in favor of the presence in southern Lebanon of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), “they need to do more,” including reporting on arms that are being transferred to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
UNIFIL, Danon said, claims the situation in the South is “excellent” and quiet, “although we know that it is not quiet, and they are arming along the border.”
Danon is not alone. In August, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley leveled withering criticism of Irish Maj.-Gen. Michael Beary, the commander of United Nations forces in Lebanon, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Iran’s covert arming of Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah openly brags about their weapons. They parade them before TV cameras. The secretary-general’s reports have confirmed this. For the UNIFIL commander to deny it… shows that we need to have changes in UNIFIL,” Haley said.
Guterres in his recent report said Hezbollah has displayed and admitted using weapons, but said there was no concrete evidence to confirm Israeli allegations of Hezbollah weapons and infrastructure at three specific locations in southern Lebanon.
The UN chief said heightened rhetoric between Hezbollah and Israeli officials has resulted in “increased anxiety” among the local populations.
He also expressed concern about Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory, saying that from July through October 2017, compared to the same period last year, there was an 80% increase of Israeli overflights – the vast majority involving drones.
In a related development, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Saturday he will not accept Hezbollah’s positions that “affect our Arab brothers or targets the security and stability of their countries,” according to a statement from his press.
Hariri announced his resignation from his post on November 4, in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia, the regional Sunni powerhouse that is locked in a confrontation with Shi’ite Iran. However, after returning to Lebanon last week, he shelved the decision on Wednesday, at the request of President Michel Aoun.
On Saturday, Hariri said his decision to wait instead of officially resigning was to give a chance to look into demands that will make Lebanon neutral and allow it to enforce its “disassociation” policy.
“Disassociation” is widely understood in Lebanon to mean its policy of staying out of regional conflicts. The regional role played by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah political and military movement has greatly alarmed Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s long-time ally.