A call from the head of the United Nations for Hezbollah to disarm has been described as “highly significant” by a UK-Israel think-tank.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on the Lebanese Armed Forces to disarm the Lebanon-based Shi’ite militia, which is supported by Iran.
Guterres said the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) could not operate in areas controlled by Hezbollah and urged the country’s government to disarm it.
It is highly unusual for the United Nations to ask a state to disarm the military wing of an organisation that part-comprises that state’s government, but Guterres said there was a “growing danger presented by armed groups operating outside of the Lebanese government’s control” in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
He added that the Lebanese government “must take the necessary steps to disarm Hezbollah and other groups in southern Lebanon”.
The UN chief’s comments followed the publication of a report into several recent incidents across the Lebanon-Israel border, including Hezbollah’s firing of three anti-tank missiles into Israel, narrowly missing an IDF vehicle.
Israel has responded by sending a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – to the area, with almost 800 Israeli drone flights recorded over Lebanese airspace in four months, a violation Guterres also criticised.
Hezbollah has a range of precision-guided missiles aimed at Israel, with whom it fought a bloody war in 2006, but Guterres urged the Lebanese Armed Forces to get involved and “ensure that the area… remains free of unauthorised weapons and is not used for hostile activities”.
Israeli defence analysts have long argued that Hezbollah is now the dominant military power in Lebanon, with firepower and manpower that far exceeds the capabilities of the Lebanese Army, with fighters battle hardened from their successful involvement in Syria’s civil war.
Nevertheless UK-Israel think-tank BICOM said Guterres’s call for the Lebanese Armed Forces to disarm Hezbollah was “highly significant,” adding that it “illustrates deep frustration with the situation in Lebanon and the inability of UNIFIL to fulfil its obligations”.
However, analysts said UNIFIL was “unlikely to step up its activities and put its forces at risk by limiting Hezbollah’s freedom to operate, and the Lebanese Armed Forces are also highly unlikely to take any action at all, especially in light of the fragile political situation in Lebanon”.