Permanent Representatives of Both Countries Exchange Accusations, Deny Violations
Confirming the existence of tunnels dug under the “Blue Line” separating Lebanon and Israel, the head of United Nations peacekeeping told the Security Council today that they represent a violation of Council resolution 1701 (2006).
“This is a matter of serious concern,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under‑Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, appealing for calm on the part of both countries. He was briefing the Council during a meeting called after Israel’s 4 December announcement that it was conducting an operation to uncover and disable tunnels dug by Hizbullah. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) subsequently confirmed the existence of the tunnels, discovered through its own investigation.
The mission will complete the investigation and work with both the Lebanese and Israeli authorities to ensure that the tunnels are disabled decisively and safely, he continued. He added that Lebanese authorities have been asked to ensure urgent follow-up and to work with UNIFIL. “This is a matter of serious concern,” he emphasized.
Commending the stated commitment by the Israeli and Lebanese armed forces to avoid escalation and coordinate through UNIFIL, he stressed: “The potential for miscalculation, however, cannot be underestimated.” They have both been reminded that provocative activities along the Blue Line and heightened rhetoric will increase possible risks, he added, noting that UNIFIL defused protests and a tense stand-off in the area. The mission has deployed additional troops and liaison teams to help maintain calm and meet their mandated obligations, and will continue to inform the Council of relevant developments he said.
In the ensuing discussion, the delegates of both Lebanon and Israel presented their perspectives on the issue.
“The Lebanese State did not commit any violations,” Lebanon’s representative insisted, while citing Israel’s daily violations of resolution 1701 (2006) by land, sea and air. That amounts to some 1,800 incidents annually, she pointed out. She said the meeting thus represents a double standard since the reports on Israel’s violations are buried in the archives, whereas Lebanon’s complaints quickly result in Council meetings. Recalling the destruction wrought by Israeli invasions, she said that while her delegation takes the matter very seriously, it is not interested in a new conflict. She reaffirmed Lebanon’s commitment to full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) as well as its willingness to engage through the UNIFIL tripartite mechanism to resolve the situation peacefully.
Israel’s representative said the tunnels were dug so that Hizbullah can invade his country after first surrounding the town of Metula and killing all its civilians as part of its known “Conquering the Galilee” plan. To prevent that, Israel took action on its own side of the Blue Line, relaying the information to UNIFIL, which contacted the Lebanese Army, he added. Instead of destroying the tunnels, however, the army relayed the information directly to Hizbullah due to the Iran-backed terrorist organization’s grip over Lebanon. He urged UNIFIL to take up its responsibility and address Hizbullah’s military build-up, saying it has turned Lebanon into a base to destroy Israel, and called upon the Council to demand that the mission have full access to its area of operation.
Ahead of those statements, Council members reinforced the Under‑Secretary‑General’s appeal to maintain calm and prevent escalation, with most calling for full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), while emphasizing the importance of UNIFIL’s role in that regard. Many urged the parties to continue using the mission’s tripartite mechanism to communicate and quell tensions.
Some speakers agreed that the tunnels represent a clear violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and urged Lebanese authorities to ensure follow-, with Sweden’s representative condemning all violations of the resolution by either side, while acknowledging the threat posed by Hizbullah’s paramilitary capacities. Some of those speakers laid the blame for the tunnels and for the instability along the Blue Line squarely on Hizbullah. The representative of the United States demanded: “What further proof do we need?” He called for full UNIFIL access to its area of operation and asserted Israel’s right to defend itself.
Other speakers, however, maintained that Israel’s threats against Lebanon were the main obstacle to implementation of resolution 1701 (2006). Kuwait’s representative, citing that country’s intensive monitoring and occupation of Lebanese territory, declared: “We must distinguish between terrorism and legitimate resistance.”
Also speaking were representatives of France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, China, Kazakhstan, Peru, Russian Federation, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Poland, Bolivia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12 p.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, recounted that Israel Defense Forces announced on 4 December that they were conducting “Operation Northern Shield” to uncover and disable tunnels believed to cross the Blue Line from Lebanon into Israel. Two weeks later, that operation is ongoing. Meanwhile, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) carried out technical visits and confirmed, based on its own findings, the existence of four tunnels south of the Blue Line, with two of these tunnels — in the vicinity of Metula and Zarit — crossing the Blue Line and constituting serious violations of resolution 1701 (2006).
From the outset, he said, UNIFIL’s Head of Mission, in coordination with the Acting Special Coordinator for Lebanon, has consistently engaged authorities in Lebanon and Israel to maintain calm and accurately assess the situation. Explaining the difficulties of a thorough examination of the tunnels, he said they do not thus far appear to have exit points on the Israeli side. The Mission will complete the investigations and work with both parties to ensure that tunnels in violation of the resolution are disabled decisively and safely. He added that Lebanese authorities have been requested to ensure urgent follow-up and to work with the Mission in those efforts. “This is a matter of serious concern,” he stressed.
Commending both the Israeli and Lebanese armed forces on their stated commitment to avoid escalation and coordinate through UNIFIL, he said the parties have been reminded that provocative activities along the Blue Line and heightened rhetoric will increase risks. “The potential for miscalculation, however, cannot be underestimated,” he stressed. Since the announcement of the tunnels’ existence, UNIFIL has observed groups of individuals in civilian clothes protesting near Meis al-Jabal on the Lebanese side, with some led by a Lebanese Parliament member and some crossing the Blue Line. Also in that area, as work was being carried out by the Israel Defense Forces south of the line, a Lebanese soldier cocked his weapon and aimed it towards the Israelis, causing a stand-off between the two militaries. UNIFIL staff intervened and were able to de-escalate the situation, he stated.
The Mission, he said, has deployed additional troops and liaison teams to assist the parties to maintain calm and meet their obligations under the resolution. The Council will continue to be apprised of relevant developments, he added.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States), noting that the recent discovery of tunnels constructed by Hizbullah constitute a violation of resolution 1701 (2006), stressed that “we can only speculate how many more [tunnels] will be uncovered” in the coming weeks. There is no doubt on who is responsible, he said, noting that the Council’s longstanding divisions over Hizbullah are undermining the region’s peace and stability. It is both regrettable and incomprehensible that some Council members still ignore Hizbullah’s role as a serious spoiler for peace between Israel and Lebanon. “What further proof do we need?” he asked, describing the group as “a serious and real threat”. Expressing strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself, he called for efforts to halt Hizbullah’s tunnelling into Israel. The Lebanese armed forces should investigate the tunnels, while UNIFIL ensures that they do not pose a threat to peace and security. For that purpose, UNIFIL personnel must be granted full access to the tunnels in southern Lebanon, he said, calling more broadly upon Iran and its agents to end their provocations in the region.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) hailed the remarkable work and responsiveness of UNIFIL personnel, who have maintained calm along the Blue Line. He underscored his serious concerns following the discovery of tunnels into Israeli territory that have been dug by Hizbullah from Lebanon, the existence of which has been confirmed by UNIFIL. These tunnels represent a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). “These activities must cease,” he said, noting that France has shared its concerns with Lebanese authorities and called on all parties to exercise prudence and restraint. This comes in a context where the risk of escalation due to misunderstanding, misinterpretation or errors in calculation is high. Maintaining calm along the Blue Line, which is what UNIFIL works for every day, remains essential for the whole region. It is vital that the two parties respect the Council’s resolution and abstain from any provocation. President Michel Aoun has announced that Lebanese authorities realize the seriousness of the situation and are ready to respond in the appropriate fashion. He encouraged them to continue along this path, noting that the Lebanese Armed Forces should carry out appropriate investigations with UNIFIL, maintain calm and avoid any escalation along the Blue Line.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) noting that the President of Lebanon has committed to addressing the discovery of the tunnels, said that country has long been living with threats and violations by Israel’s army. Unfortunately, calls by the international community and attempts by UNIFIL have failed to end the attacks by the Israeli Air Force. Indeed, violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty happen daily, but no calls were heard for the Council to meet to address those crimes. Noting that Israel’s violations have reached a new level, with monitoring and spying devices now spread across Lebanese territory and its telecommunications network, he reiterated Kuwait’s support for Lebanon’s sovereignty and security and called for the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) by ending Israel’s threats. “We must distinguish between terrorism and legitimate resistance” against Israel’s ongoing violations and occupation of Lebanese territory, he said, calling on all parties to use the tripartite negotiating channel and other avenues of dialogue to resolve the situation.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), condemning Hizbullah’s building of tunnels into Israel as a threat to the security of both Israel and Lebanon, said Israeli authorities have the right to defend themselves. For too long, Hizbullah has blatantly violated Council resolutions, including through its attempts to acquire dangerous new missile technology and its deeply alarming statements against Israel. While the issue of private property complicates the full investigation of the tunnels, it is not impossible, she said, calling on the Lebanese armed forces — that country’s only legitimate armed group — to neutralize the tunnels as a matter of urgency. Meanwhile, Israel must share with UNIFIL any information that could assist in taking action. “It is in neither sides’ interests for the situation to escalate,” she stressed, reiterating the United Kingdom’s condemnation of Israel’s violations of Lebanese territory which undermine trust in the region.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), echoing concern about the discovery of tunnels on Israeli territory, agreed that they represent a clear violation of Council resolution 1701 (2006). Lebanese authorities must ensure urgent follow-up action in accordance with their responsibilities under that resolution, he said, adding that UNIFIL should also monitor the situation and keep the Council informed. Condemning all violations of resolution 1701 (2006) by both sides, including Israel’s almost daily violations of Lebanese airspace, he called on both sides to show restraint and de-escalate tensions. “It is crucial to avoid any misunderstandings that could lead to escalation,” he warned, welcoming UNIFIL’s stepped up plans to preserve stability and encouraging the parties to make use of the Mission’s liaison, coordination and tripartite mechanisms to reduce tensions. Noting that Hizbullah’s paramilitary capacities remain a clear risk to stability in Lebanon and elsewhere, he called for the swift implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), including the dismantling of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, and welcomed signs that a Government will soon be formed in that country.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) condemned tunnel activities, which constitute a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty and international law. Underlining that Israel’s concerns about security are legitimate, he expressed support for UNIFIL’s proactive actions since the discovery of the tunnels. The Mission has been able to decrease tensions, he observed, and is in close contact with Lebanese authorities, sending clear messages about the need for an investigation on the northern side of the Blue Line. As such, the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese Armed Forces must take this issue seriously and act responsibly. Welcoming that Government’s willingness to cooperate and allow access to the alleged tunnel starting points, he added: “these words have not been matched by deeds yet.” He called on both sides to maintain calm and fully respect and implement Security Council resolutions 1701 (2006) and 1559 (2004). The current situation reaffirms the need for sustainable solutions, he said, urging continued international support to Lebanon, including for its much-needed socioeconomic reforms and for building up the Lebanese Armed Forces.
LIE CHENG (China) called on all parties near the Blue Line to work closely with UNIFIL to prevent any escalation in tensions and to complete a thorough and impartial investigation. The two sides should focus on maintaining calm and complying with relevant Security Council resolutions. The international community should help the parties maintain calm, while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries involved. Paying tribute to the role of UNIFIL, he said it is important that the Mission continue its important role to ease the current situation and assist parties in implementing the resolutions. As one of the troop contributors to that Mission, China will continue to play an important role in supporting peace and stability in the region, he pledged.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), noting that the overall situation in the Mission’s area of operation remains calm, said peacekeepers should increase their patrolling along the Blue Line, together with the Lebanese Armed Forces, to maintain stability. Expressing support for Lebanon’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence, which is provided in the 1949 General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Lebanon, he also reaffirmed Israel’s right to conduct any engineering works within the limits established by international agreements on State borders.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru), underscoring Israel’s right to defend itself against violations of its sovereignty, said in this case that will mean the destruction of the discovered tunnels. Lebanon must be able to defend its entire territory, he stressed, adding that no other group should be permitted to take up arms. Emphasizing the importance of pursuing a full investigation of the tunnels, he said UNIFIL must be granted access to them, and called on the parties to act with restraint in line with the Taif Agreement, resolution 1701 (2006) and other relevant agreements.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation), underlining the importance of maintaining friendly relations between Israel and Lebanon, said his delegation is in close contact with both sides as well as UNIFIL. While the Russian Federation understands concerns about the discovered tunnels, it hopes — but for the sake of stability — that the parties will refrain from “emotional polemics” and work to overcome any disagreements. The UNIFIL tripartite mechanism is one important venue for those discussions, he said, adding that any violations of resolution 1701 (2006) — by either side — must cease. “We cannot have a selective approach to the implementation of the resolution,” he stressed. While recognizing Israel’s right to defend its security, he expressed hope that the methods used to that end will not violate Council resolutions. Welcoming statements by both sides that they do not intend to engage in direct confrontations, he said a responsible attitude and restraint are now urgently needed. The tunnels should not be a reason to draw hasty conclusions about UNIFIL’s work, as its personnel are having a positive effect in the region.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), voicing deep concern about the possible repercussions of declarations of a large-scale Israeli operation in response to the tunnels, said those words have unleashed the “drums of war”. Underscoring the importance of preserving stability along the border in coordination with UNIFIL, he said efforts must continue to ensure there are no misunderstandings. Both parties should take advantage of UNIFIL’s liaison role, as well as its tripartite mechanism, to reduce tensions. Before resorting to force, the priority must be to preserve calm and stability. Noting that Israel has the right to its legitimate defence, he asked Council members with influence over the parties to compel them to engage in negations towards a lasting peace.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), noting the delicate situation in the region, said it would not be in anyone’s interest for it to escalate, making it absolutely vital to maintain calm and stability along the Blue Line. It is encouraging that both parties are willing to work with UNIFIL and have no intention of escalating the situation. It is also important that the Mission continues to work in close coordination with the parties to verify facts and address developments in connection with the tunnels, in line with resolution 1701 (2006). In addition, strengthening the presence of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the territory remains an important objective, given recent developments.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), noted with great concern the existence of the tunnels as confirmed by UNIFIL, which constitute a violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and the sovereignty of Israel, as well as a threat to its citizens. He commended UNIFIL for its actions and the response of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Condemning any action that may undermine security and threaten peace, he urged the parties to abide by their obligations to respect the resolution, show restraint, avoid unilateral actions, maintain close cooperation with UNIFIL and work through the tripartite mechanism to preserve calm. He reaffirmed strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon and its efforts to insulate itself from the damaging effect of the conflict in Syria.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) expressed full trust in the follow-up actions of the Lebanese Government following the information provided to it by UNIFIL, stressing that the investigation must be pursued in an impartial manner. All parties must base their actions on full compliance with resolution 1701 (2006). Condemning what he called Israel’s frequent violations of the Blue Line, he called on that country to end disproportional deployment of its armed forces on the Blue Line and refrain from the heated rhetoric it has used since 4 December. He appealed to both parties, in addition, to strengthen the Blue Line and ensure a zone free of armed elements aside from official armed forces. He also called on them to end the occupation of areas that violate Lebanese sovereignty.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President speaking in his national capacity, expressed concern over the discovery of tunnels and condemned Hizbullah’s related actions, saying they could endanger the lives of both Israeli and Lebanese civilians. Commending UNIFIL for its response to the discovery, he encouraged the Lebanese Army to provide all assistance to the Mission in its investigation and urged all parties to maintain the calm. “A new conflict between Israel and Hizbullah would have tragic consequences,” he warned.
AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon), recalling that her country witnessed four devastating Israeli invasions over the last four decades resulting in thousands of civilian deaths, said today its people are witnessing another volatile situation unfold with the discovery of tunnels into Israel. Lebanon takes the matter very seriously and has said clearly that it is not interested in a new conflict, having immediately reaffirmed its commitment to resolution 1701 (2006). “This commitment is not rhetoric, and these are not mere words,” she stressed, emphasizing that Lebanon has no aggressive intentions and fully respects the Blue Line. The Prime Minister-designate also affirmed that the Lebanese Army is the sole power responsible for defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a heavy deployment from that army has been dispatched to the area to ensure strict adherence to resolution 1701 (2006). However, she said, both the President and the Prime Minister have cited Israel’s daily violations of the same resolution by land, sea and air, which also represent a violation of the Charter of the United Nations.
“The Lebanese State did not commit any violations,” she insisted, noting that the number of Israeli violations amount to some 1,800 = incidents annually. Outlining some examples, she said the Lebanese people are concerned about double standards in which reports of Israeli violations are “buried in the archives” and go unpunished, while that country’s complaints quickly result in Council meetings. “We all know too well how the so-called Israeli right of pre-emptive self-defence […] is used to justify illegal aggressive acts and invasions,” she said. There is a simple way of keeping the border calm: strict adherence to the terms of resolution 1701 (2006) by both sides, not just by Lebanon, as well as a move from hostilities to a permanent ceasefire. Emphasizing that her country refuses to be used as a pawn in Israel’s domestic “power politics”, she reaffirmed Lebanon’s willingness to engage through the UNIFIL tripartite mechanism to resolve the situation peacefully.
DANNY BEN YOSEF DANON (Israel) said the tunnels that had been confirmed by UNIFIL were built so that Hizbullah could invade Israel after first surrounding the town of Metula and killing all its civilians, as part of its known plan called “Conquering the Galilee”. Those attacks would be followed by a full-scale missile assault and ground invasion of his country. “But we will not allow it to happen,” he avowed. To prevent the grave reality from ever taking place, he said, Israel monitored the situation and took action on its own side of the Blue Line, relaying the information to UNIFIL, which contacted the Lebanese Army. Instead of that army destroying the tunnels, however, it relayed information directly to Hizbullah, which then sealed the tunnels in an effort to hide the evidence. He showed a photograph of work done in that regard. UNIFIL has one primary responsibility: to ensure that its area of operations is not used for hostile activities of any kind. Yet, even with thousands of peacekeepers and Lebanese Army troops present, Hizbullah has full control of the area north of the Blue Line. The army gives it information and prevents UNIFIL from carrying out its mandates, not giving it full access to areas with violations pinpointed by Israel, he asserted.
Arguing that Hizbullah’s activities are a flagrant violation of not only resolution 1701 (2006) but also the United Nations Charter, he expressed hope that UNIFIL’s new commander will not repeat mistakes of the past and ignore its activities. Israel’s numerous complaints, he said, have not appeared in any one of the 38 reports the Mission submitted, which often state that the situation is calm and nothing needs to be done. “Today, no one can deny the facts”, he said. Urging the Council to ensure that the Mission has access to its full area of operation and to designate Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, he called on the international community to condemn it. He affirmed that Israel has the full right to defend its sovereignty and its people. Showing photographs of a village in which he said Hizbullah has built bunkers, weapons installations and tunnel entrances in houses and next to schools, he said the organization is using civilians as human shields. “Imagine what will happen to that village if Israel had to defend itself,” he said, given the thousands of rockets stockpiled in the area. The Lebanese Government is paralysed by the Iran-funded terrorist group and has allowed it to turn its territory into an invasion base for a devastating war, with game-changing Iranian missiles now being flown directly into Beirut airport. After wreaking havoc in Syria, he maintained Iran and Hizbullah are now turning their war machine towards Israel. Hizbullah’s terror tunnels and missiles were created for that purpose. He warned that, if attacked, Israel must act with its full might to defend its people and destroy Hizbullah. “We will bury it in the rubble of Lebanon,” he warned, appealing to the Council to prevent that tragedy.
* *** *