The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has confirmed the existence of at least two tunnels crossing the “Blue Line” – the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel – but they “do not appear thus far” to have exit points leading to the surface on Israeli territory, the United Nations top peacekeeping official told the Security Council on Wednesday.
Briefing the Security Council, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that a thorough investigation to establish the trajectories and points of origin of the tunnels “is a complex task” as they are between 29 and 46 metres below ground, difficult to detect, and near areas sensitive to both parties.
“While the tunnels do not appear thus far to have exit points on the Israeli side, they are a serious violation of resolution 1701,” he said.
“UNIFIL is acting judiciously to complete its investigations of the tunnels – with technical teams on the ground – and to work with both parties to ensure that any tunnels that are in violation of the resolution are disabled decisively and safely.”
He also informed the Council that, from the outset, UNIFIL has sought to “accurately assess” the alleged violations as well as work with the parties to maintain calm along the Blue Line.
Calm prevails, but there is ‘potential for miscalculation’
Commending both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for their stated commitment to use established coordination arrangements and their intention to avoid any escalation, the head of UN peacekeeping operations warned however that the “potential for miscalculation … cannot be underestimated.”
“The parties have been reminded that provocative activities along the Blue Line and heightened rhetoric contribute to an environment of increased risk,” he cautioned.
Mr. Lacroix further told the Security Council that the UN mission has observed demonstrations near Meis al-Jabal, some of which were led by Members of Parliament in Lebanon and had few protesters “crossing” the Blue Line.
In a separate instance, on 17 December, in connection with works being carried out by the IDF south of the Blue Line, a LAF soldier “cocked his weapon”, directing it towards the IDF.
Thereafter, both IDF soldiers and LAF personnel took up positions, pointing weapons at each other, leading to increased tensions, he said, adding that the situation was de-escalated by the intervention of UNIFIL liaison officers, who were present there throughout the stand off.
“UNIFIL has deployed additional troops and liaison teams to sensitive locations along the Blue Line. UNIFIL will continue to assist the parties to maintain calm and meet their obligations under resolution 1701 (2006),” he added.
Speaking in the chamber, the Permanent Representative of Lebanon, Amal Mudallali, told Council members that her Government was taking the discovery of the tunnels very seriously and assured them that her country was not responsible for any violations.
At the same time, she highlighted, Israel must not take advantage of the issue to undermine the stability of Lebanon.
She also called on the Security Council to defuse the situation, noting that it is the “only way” to maintain calm in accordance with Council resolution 1701, adopted as a means for ending hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah as well as a phased withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon, in both Israel as well as in Lebanon.
Danny Danon, the Permanent Representative of Israel, described what he said was the on-going threat posed by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group to his country, which Israel alleges dug the tunnels, and said Israel will never allow those threats to materialize.
He told the Security Council that after the tunnels were discovered by Israeli forces, UNIFIL was duly informed, saying that information had been sent on to Lebanese authorities. Hezbollah he said, had made every effort to “hide” the tunnels.
Mr. Danon urged the Security Council to denounce Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, as well as rebuke it for serious violations of resolution 1701.