Reports out of southern Lebanon tell us that the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah continues to expand its network of tunnels along the border with Israel, preparing for another war. That’s not an accusation by Israeli sources, but a boast by Hezbollah, detailed in a series of recent articles in a Hezbollah-linked newspaper, As-Safir. As summed up by The Times of Israel, Hezbollah provided As-Safir reporters with a tour of its tunnel network, which they duly described as vast, advanced, reinforced, equipped with a 24-hour power supply, a ventilation system, and webs of escape shafts — connected to bunkers and surveillance posts.
While building this maze, Hezbollah has also been restocking its arsenal, following the 2006 summer war it launched against Israel. The Times of Israel story goes on to cite the estimates of a senior Israeli intelligence official that Hezbollah now has, as they sum it up, some “100,000 short-range rockets capable of striking northern Israel, several thousand missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and central Israel and hundreds more that can strike the entire country.” Most of these weapons have come from Syria and Iran. This adds up to much more firepower than Hezbollah had when it triggered the 2006 war by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers — whom Hezbollah murdered, while the UN assured Israel that it was negotiating their safe release.
So, where in this alarming picture are the United Nations peacekeepers? Recall that the UN keeps thousands of them in southern Lebanon: the blue berets of UNIFIL (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon). Prior to the 2006 summer war, the UNIFIL troops apparently failed to notice the labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers that Hezbollah was then building right under their noses, and the arsenal of weapons Hezbollah was trucking in. Or maybe they noticed, but felt it would be awkward to interfere. In any event, UNIFIL’s troops not only failed to keep the peace, but had to be rescued from the 2006 war that broke out under them.
The UN, with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan leading the charge, proposed to remedy that peacekeeping disaster by providing yet more peacekeepers.The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701, which entailed plans to completely disarm all non-governmental forces in Lebanon. The UN beefed up UNIFIL. This UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon currently fields well over 10,000 troops, from 38 countries, operating on a budget of roughly $500 million per year (more than 28% of that funded by U.S. taxpayers).
And while Hezbollah today is building its new, improved, huge labyrinth of war tunnels, bragging about them, and stocking its arsenal with weapons to terrorize and kill Israelis, what are UNIFIL’s peacekeepers doing? Evidently they are not busy disarming Hezbollah. Nor have these blue berets been sounding a public alarm that they are failing abysmally in a mission that by now amounts to a costly panacea — prelude to worse war than the conflict that so shocked UNIFIL in 2006.
But they do keep busy. A glance at their web site finds that that they have been providing students in southern Lebanon with lessons in road safety. Earlier this month they took part in a half marathon in Beirut. Last month they performed folkloric dances at a spring festival in the southern Lebanese town of Sultaniyeh. They’ve hosted visits by the president of Ireland and the king of Spain. They’ve celebrated the 37th anniversary of UNIFIL’s establishment in southern Lebanon. They’ve hosted a handicrafts exhibition.
And on May 15th, they organized a clown show, for children with special needs, featuring a “team of highly trained professionals specialized in clown therapy to promote messages of hope and peace.” We need not doubt the kindly impulse behind that exercise, or the pleasures of entertaining children. But if that’s how UNIFIL is spending its time and resources, while once again, under the noses of it dancing peacekeepers, Hezbollah turns southern Lebanon into a vast ant farm of war tunnels and bunkers stuffed with weapons, then the entire UNIFIL mission has become a clown show. And it’s not funny.