Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

Trouble Down South?

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Members of UNIFIL's Indonesian battalion's mech infantry study charts on the Blue Line in Kfar Kila, Lebanon. March 2010. Photo courtesy of Sam Tarling/Executive Magazine http://samtphoto.blogspot.com

It hasn’t been the easiest couple of weeks for southern Lebanon.  In late June, UNIFIL patrols began coming under attack when passing through villages in the South, apparently by disgruntled villagers.  Some in Lebanon have blamed Hezbollah for having a hand in this.  Despite talks between UNIFIL, the various political parties, communities in the South and the Lebanese Armed Forces, it looks like little has been resolved.

In an educational DVD about UNIFIL given to me by the peacekeeping brass down in Naqoura, aging Lebanese actor Rafic Ali Ahmad tackles some points of friction that the local population might have.  In one scene, he sits down for tea with a local man who complains about the noise that the APCs make while on patrol – Ahmad assures the man the UNIFIL is here to maintain the peace in Lebanon and benefit the Lebanese population and the man quickly understands.  As events like this show us, it’s probably not quite that clear cut.

The relationship is complex, to say the least.  In last month’s issue of Executive Magazine, I looked into the financial benefits that UNIFIL brings to southern Lebanon and the people in the area who are cashing in off of the “interim” forces presence.  These people are most likely not the ones blocking off roads and throwing rocks at UNIFIL convoys.  Check out the article here

While there has been lots of debate about how effective UNIFIL is and what the group’s mission should be, the peacekeepers are seemingly good at keeping weapons directly off the border.  Along the UN-demarcated Blue Line of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, the only guns I’ve seen are in the hands of the Lebanese Armed Forces or more likely, the many UNIFIL patrols passing through day and night.  With a huge boost in UNIFIL’s numbers since Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, it looks like it is now possible to more effectively patrol the precarious border areas.  It’s a stark contrast to the situation before 2006 when Hezbollah fighters had bunkers directly on the Blue Line and crossed into Israeli territory regularly with relatively little hassle.

However, Israel this week reported intelligence that this has just pushed Hezbollah’s arms into more urban spaces south of the Litani – ie the villages that UNIFIL’s patrols have come under attack in.

From Beirut, it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on down there.  I had planned a little trip down to the Blue Line, but apparently the already elusive permission for foreigners to get down there (which has, in the past, been denied to me on several occasions by the moody mukhabarat officer in Saida) has been impossible to get in light of recent events.  Until then, will keep monitoring events and waiting for a window.

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Written by woodenbeirut

July 8, 2010 at 5:33 pm

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