Background Report Role for UN Peacekeeping Force in South Lebanon
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Background Report Role for UN Peacekeeping Force in South Lebanon

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The limited role outlined for the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon included in the agreement reached between Israel and Lebanon appears to represent the long-held Israeli view of the peacekeeping force’s inability to prevent Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists from planning and launching assaults on Israel’s northern settlements from south Lebanon.

The Israel-Lebanon accord, formally signed May 17, gives the UN force a limited and restricted role for one year, providing for a single UN unit to be based near Sidon, which may, if requested by the Lebanese government, travel to Palestinian refugee camps near Sidon and Tyre “to surveil and observe,” according to the text of the agreement.


Providing substance to past Israeli charges against the peacekeeping force, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), is a recent study conducted by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington-based think tank.

“Evidence shows in some cases that UNIFIL units facilitated the movements and activities of the PLO in south Lebanon, thus contributing to the destabilization that triggered the renewal of hostilities in June, 1982,” said the report, by Robert Brooks, a policy analyst for the Foundation. The 20-page report, which focused on the efforts of the UN peacekeeping forces since 1948, was issued in April, prior to the signing of the Israel-Lebanon accord.

While noting the difficulties Lebanon’s southern region presented to a peacekeeping force, the Brooks report said UNIFIL “Failed because of uneven performance of its various contingents, many of which unwittingly encouraged violence and raised the level of tension among warring factions in the entire region.”

UNIFIL, which at this time comprises some 6,000 troops including Fijians, Nepalese, and French troops, was established by the UN Security Council in 1978 following Israel’s Litani operation into south Lebanon which, similar to last June’s invasion, was designed to clear the region of Palestinian terrorist bases.

A UN peacekeeping force was provided with a mandate to “confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces” from Lebanon, “restore international peace and security, and assist the Lebanese government to re-establish its authority in the occupied area,” according to Brooks. The force was initially established with the intention of remaining in south Lebanon for six months. Its mandate has been renewed by the Security Council each time it has come up before the UN body.

The Brooks report cited a number of reasons for the failure of UNIFIL to maintain and accomplish its intended mandate. These include, according to Brooks, the “uneven ability” of UNIFIL to assert its authority. While some members of the force were able to turn back terrorists seeking to infiltrate the area it controlled, there existed “soft spots” in the force which allowed the “adversaries to manuever,” according to Brooks.

Furthermore, Brooks pointed to a “lack of freedom” for the peacekeeping units to move around the area intended for it to control, the problem of the many warring factions in south Lebanon and the unclear role of Israel’s ally, Maj. Saad Haddad and his 1,200-member Christian militia force in south Lebanon, as all having contributed to the ineffectiveness of the UNIFIL operation.

The most serious evidence against UNIFIL is that, according to reports following Israel’s invasion last June, there was “close and systematic intelligence cooperation between UNIFIL personnel and the PLO,” Brooks wrote. He added that intelligence information was passed on to the PLO from UNIFIL soldiers and officers. “On one occasion, the PLO was able to induce UNIFIL to supply it with sophisticated communications equipment,” Brooks asserted.


A leading UN official, however, in response to an editorial on the report which appeared in The Wall Street Journal, attacked the Foundation’s study as being “so replete with factual errors and preconceived ideas that it cannot be taken seriously. The Foundation has long been dedicated to an assault on the UN.”

The UN official, Brian Urquhart, UN Under-Secretary General for Special Political Affairs, in a letter to the editor May 24, called the Heritage report’s assertion of UNIFIL-PLO cooperation in south Lebanon “highly disingeruous.” He wrote that public reports on the activities of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon “have always given an accounting of its relationship with the PLO” and Israel as well as other parties to the conflict.

“It is a basic principle that UN peacekeeping operations deal with all the parties present, and the PLO was certainly an important element in the situation,” Urquhart wrote. He added that the cease-fire of July, 1981 between Israel and the PLO was negotiated by special U.S. envoy Philip Habib on the Israeli side and “by the UN as far as the PLO was concerned.”

Nevertheless, the Brooks report said that according to information made available to the Heritage Foundation, “other advantages gained by the PLO through UNIFIL beneficence, include: PLO liaison officers were allowed to move fully armed with an armed escort through UNIFIL ‘controlled’ territory; explosives were carried into Israel by individual UNIFIL officers for use by PLO terrorists; and UNIFIL officers were persuaded by the PLO to inform village leaders 24 hours in advance of any impending search for concealed weapons.”

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