UNIFIL: Evolution of a Peacekeeping Mandate

By Andrea Fabi

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE" nr. 2 - 2020

Selection: "The Evolution of Peace Operations Mandate, pag.14

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine2.20.2


Since its foundation during WWII, Lebanon has been affected by instability and conflicts, experiencing, over the last decades, civil war and several invasions from its neighbors, which prompted the United Nations Security Council to deploy there, since the late 70s of the past century, a multinational peacekeeping force, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

UNIFIL’s mandated had to be adjusted twice due to the developments in 1982 and 2000. Then, following the July/August 2006 crisis, the Council enhanced the Force and decided that in addition to the original mandate, it would, among other things, monitor the cessation of hostilities, accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the south of Lebanon and extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

318 peacekeepers have given their lives in the line of duty serving within UNIFIL[1].

An international effort: 45 nations together for peace

Nowadays, UNIFIL is composed of more than 10,000 military personnel from 45 troop contributing countries, supported by more than 800 international and Lebanese civilian staff. The Area of Operations extends from the so-called Blue Line in the south to the Litani river in the north and is divided in two sectors, east and west, at Brigade level; Five battalions are deployed in Sector West, while four in Sector East. A “Force Commander Reserve”, at Regimental level, is to support both sectors as needed. UNIFIL representative is also present in Beirut, as well as at Beirut airport and seaport, to facilitate military rotations and shipments.

A Maritime Task Force (MTF), currently composed of six vessels (one frigate and five corvettes), has also been deployed since October 2006 within the 1701 mandate, at the request of the Lebanese Government, aimed to prompt Israel to lift its naval blockade on Lebanon. MTF is the first and only such maritime entity in a United Nations peacekeeping mission. It supports the Lebanese Navy in monitoring Lebanese territorial waters, securing maritime borders and entry points and preventing unauthorized entry of arms by sea into Lebanon. This task is now accomplished reporting suspicious ships to Lebanese authorities for further inspections, whose results are reported back to UNIFIL. MTF also assists Lebanese Navy in enhancing its capabilities by trainings and joint exercises, with a view for Lebanese Navy to assume all duties required for maritime interdiction operations.

The Area of Maritime Operations (AMO), which is about 5,000 nautical miles, stretches along the Lebanese coast into international waters. Maritime boundaries between Lebanon and Israel are however not agreed upon: after its withdrawal in 2000, Israel unilaterally installed a line of buoys off Ras Naqoura to the sea as the extension of the Blue Line, but this is not recognized by the UN and UNIFIL does not have a mandate to monitor it and focuses to prevent hostile activities.

42 years of morphing

UNIFIL’s establishment on 19 March 1978 through UN Security Council Resolutions 425[2] and 426[3] was triggered by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Its original mandate was to confirm Israeli withdrawal and restore International peace and security, assisting the Government of Lebanon. In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon for the second time, establishing a security buffer zone inside the country. In 1985 Israel partially withdrew its forces from Lebanon but retained control of an area in southern Lebanon by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the so-called “South Lebanon Army” (SLA). In April 2000 Israel notified the UN Secretary-General that it would withdraw its forces from Lebanon by July 2000. On 25 May 2000 the Government of Israel notified that the redeployment of its forces had been completed.

Following the IDF withdrawal, the UN identified the “Line of Withdrawal”, or so-called “Blue Line”, largely conforming to the previous internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon. The Blue Line had the sole purpose of confirming IDF full withdrawal from Lebanese territory: it does not represent in any way an international border and is without prejudice to future border arrangements between Lebanon and Israel.

On 12 July 2006, war broke out again after Hizbullah[4] attacked an IDF patrol killing three soldiers and kidnapping two. Therefore, on 11 August 2006, the Security Council adopted resolution 1701[5], which ended the war and in which the Council expanded UNIFIL strength from 2,000 to up to 15,000 troops and enhanced its mandate. The Security Council decision followed the Lebanese commitment that it would deploy up to 15,000 troops in southern Lebanon.

It is to be noticed that, to this extent, after 2006 war no ceasefire has been formally signed between Lebanon and Israel, therefore they can be still considered formally at war. Last ceasefire understanding – but not a formal ceasefire – between Lebanon and Israel goes back to 1996[6].

UN Security Council decisions

Originally, Resolutions 425 and 426 mandated UNIFIL to:

  • Confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon.
  • Restore International peace and security.
  • Assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.

During 1982 Israeli invasion in the so-called “Operation Peace for Galilee”, the Security Council recognized that UNIFIL was unable to fulfill its mandate under resolutions 425/426 and, on 18 June 1982, adopted resolution 511, authorizing UNIFIL to carry out additional tasks: in addition to manning their positions, would possibly extend their protection and humanitarian assistance to the population in the Area of Operations. For three years, UNIFIL remained behind the Israeli lines, with its role limited to providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the local population.

Following the withdrawal of the Israeli forces in May 2000, the 22 January 2001 Secretary-General’s report on UNIFIL[7] wrote that: “Of the three parts of its mandate, UNIFIL has essentially completed two. It has confirmed the withdrawal of Israeli forces and assisted, to the extent it could, the Lebanese authorities as they returned to the area vacated by Israel”. Consequently, UNIFIL’s main focus from then on was restoring international peace and security, operating as an observing and monitoring mission.

As a response to 2006 July/August crisis, Security Council Resolution 1701, significantly enhanced UNIFIL’s strength and mandate. Indeed, in addition to the original mandate, UNIFIL shall:

  • Monitor the cessation of hostilities.
  • Accompany and support the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as they deploy throughout the south of Lebanon, including along the Blue Line.
  • Extend its assistance to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.
  • Assist the LAF in establishing between the Blue Line and the Litani river an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons except those of Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL.
  • Assist the Government of Lebanon, at its request, in securing its borders and other entry points to prevent the illegal entry of arms or related materials into Lebanon.

The UN Security Council also authorized UNIFIL to take all necessary actions in its Area of Operations and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that area is not used for any hostile activities. It should also resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the UN mandate. And it should protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of UN personnel, humanitarian workers and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon, protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.

UNIFIL mandate has then been renewed every year by Security Council resolutions.

In Resolution 2373 (2017)[8], which extended UNIFIL mandate until August 2018, the Security Council called for an accelerated and durable deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces in southern Lebanon and the territorial waters of Lebanon, and increased support of and coordination with Lebanese Armed Forces. It also asked for enhanced reporting to the Council on UNIFIL’s activities.

In Resolution 2485 (2019)[9], which extended the UNIFIL mandate until August 2020, the Security Council commends UNIFIL for the operational changes undertaken and calls for continued enhanced operational activities.

Fulfilling the mandate

In 2010, a UNIFIL-DPKO review recommended to formalize a regular strategic dialogue mechanism between UNIFIL and LAF. It aims to assist LAF in establishing appropriate operational capabilities to implement tasks mandated in Resolution 1701. Overall, it is intended to facilitate LAF’s gradual assumption of security responsibility in the UNIFIL Area of Operations and Lebanese territorial waters. A joint Strategic Dialogue plan between UNIFIL and LAF was signed in 2013: UNIFIL established a coordination mechanism, comprised of LAF, Government representatives and supporting members of the international community in assisting, equipping and training LAF, in order to develop appropriate operational capabilities for implementing tasks mandated under Resolution 1701.

UNIFIL continues to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces in order to deny possible unauthorized armed personnel between the Blue Line and the Litani River, except for those belonging to the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL. Therefore, in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL maintains permanent and temporary checkpoints and conducts hundreds of counter-rocket-launching operations each month. UNIFIL vehicle, foot and air patrols maintain an operational footprint in all municipalities and villages inside the area of operations. Around 450 operational activities are currently performed 24/7, which almost 20% are carried out in close coordination with LAF: mostly focused on monitoring the Blue Line, the UNSCR 1701 center of gravity. Moreover, air reconnaissance patrols continue to be concentrated over areas to which ground patrols had limited access because of rugged terrain or land contaminated EODs or anti-personnel mines.

Furthermore, supporting the Government of Lebanon in implementing its effective authority is granted ensuring the development of the Lebanese Armed Forces, in line with the priorities outlined during the Rome II ministerial meeting, held in March 2018. Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) and UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander intensified their engagement with the Lebanese authorities to encourage a coordinated approach to increase the presence of LAF in the area and the development of its maritime component growing LAF operational capabilities through performing joint training exercises as well as joint patrols and other operational activities.

Indeed, within the framework of the strategic dialogue mechanism, advanced discussions in a joint working group established to develop a strategy for a phased transition of the responsibilities of the MTF to the Lebanese Armed Forces, jointly identifying key capabilities for the Lebanese Navy essential for handing over those responsibilities.

Likewise, UNIFIL carries out additional tasks, which include mine clearance activities performed with the support of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), as part of UNIFIL’s mandate to restore international peace and security and to assist the Government of Lebanon in restoring its authority in southern Lebanon. Moreover, UNIFIL attaches great importance to relations with local population, interacting with local communities at every level, mainly relying on UNIFIL Civil Affairs branch (civilian) and CIMIC (CIvil-Military Coordination, military). While UNIFIL is not a humanitarian or development agency, from early years of its deployment it has had a strong humanitarian approach towards local communities, providing a range of basic services (e.g.: medical, veterinary and dental assistance) and assisting local population through training programs and quick impact projects in addressing pressing needs. Special efforts are additionally focused on capacity building for Lebanese Civil Defense.

Furthermore, to fulfil its mandate, UNIFIL engages both parties bilaterally on various levels, as well as through the Tripartite forum. Communication with both parties takes place in the framework of an agreed Liaison and Coordination mechanism. UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander (HoM/FC) has direct communication, including a hotline, with designated LAF and IDF generals. This is complemented, at working level, with regular meetings and contacts carried out by Liaison Branch and Political staff, as well as on as-needed basis. Contacts are also aimed to reduce the tension across the Blue Line and recurring violations, such as arrangements to enable Lebanese farmers to harvest in the field located close to or south of Blue Line. Additionally, UNIFIL and LAF coordinate operational matters.

The above mentioned Tripartite forum has proven to be a real effective tool, calling both parties together in order to coordinate IDF withdrawal in 2006, then it expanded to deal with violations of Resolution 1701, as well as to identify and address key security and military operational issues. Leaded by UNIFIL HoM/FC and attended by senior representative both from IDF and LAF, Tripartite forum is an essential conflict management and confidence-building mechanism between the parties, contributing to de-escalate tensions. Parties committed themselves to provide information on their activities and to marking the Blue Line on the ground, which is made building pillars, the so-called “Blue Barrels”.

A challenging future

Despite the efforts and the successes achieved since Resolution 1701, which has ensured an unprecedented period of calm in southern Lebanon since 1982, lasting 14 years, many issues are still to be solved: boundaries between Lebanon and Israel have not been agreed upon and there are many disputed areas across the Blue Line, which Lebanon claims being part of its territory, as Ghajar village in South-East, which is divided in two parts by the Blue Line and still completely controlled by Israel, and Shebaa Farms area in Golan Heights, that Lebanon claims.

Even the maritime boundary, whose discussion is outside the remit of UNIFIL’s mandate, is pending on an agreement, which is as more sensitive as it is to be considered that it will establish jurisdiction on underwater gas and oil fields to be exploited.

Current 2020 COVID-19 pandemic added further strains to fulfilling UNIFIL mandate. Precautionary measures adopted to reduce the risk of spreading the virus has led to a dramatic change in work procedures – albeit temporarily, increasing the use of IT tools, such as teleconferencing, and, for civilian staff, largely working from home. Operational activities have also been remodeled, avoiding unnecessary contacts between military and civilians and adopting strict protocols and safety measures. However, UNIFIL is still maintaining its 24/7 presence in the area of operations: its mandate has not changed and is always mainly focused on monitoring the Blue Line, whose sanctity remains the main core of UNIFIL operational activities.

It can be said that, despite the events occurred in the past and the future challenges, on the one hand maintaining a strong military presence and on the other hand acting at political and diplomatic levels, since 2006 UNIFIL has proven to be able to ensure peace and stability to southern Lebanon, fulfilling its mandate as it has evolved. In his report on “Implementation of Security Council resolution 1701”, dated 18 November 2019[10], UN Secretary-General declared that, during last relevant escalating in tensions across the Blue Line on late August and early September 2019, UNIFIL, together with the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), worked effectively towards preventing conflict and de-escalating tensions.

Nevertheless, looking forward to the future and bearing also in mind the need to evolve in accordance with current and future challenges, it could be taken into consideration to move the approach in maintaining peace and stability in southern Lebanon from a more military oriented peacekeeping mission, to a so-called peace stability operation (PSO). The latter seems to be more fitting the UNIFIL’s approach in providing, in addition to military presence, humanitarian and civic assistance, supporting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the re-establishing of its effective authority: indeed, stability operations are sometimes referred to as "Phase IV" or "post-conflict" operations, although reoccurrences of conflict are often possible[11]. In this view, it should be advisable to smoothly change the mission’s footprint from a pure military approach, implementing the mission with gendarme-type peacekeepers, specialized in managing the transition from a post-crisis situation to a more stable context for reconstruction. This is why the professional background heavily influences the peacekeepers approach and behavior[12]: while conventional military operations are guided by tactical manuals that provide detailed behavioral prescriptions, there is more room for interpretation in peace and stability operations, which seems more close to a gendarme-type peacekeeper culture and professional background.



[1] https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/unifil.

[2] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/425.

[3] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/426.

[4] Hizbullah, literally "Party of Allah", is a Shia Islamist political party and militant group founded in the early 1980s. It is a proxy to Iran  and waged a guerilla campaign in South Lebanon, and as a result Israel withdrew from Lebanon on 2000. Hizbullah and its military wing are considered as a terroristic organization by Israel, some western countries (e.g.: USA, UK, France, Germany), Saudi Arabia and other Arabic Sunni countries.

[5] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/1701.  

[6] https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/IL%20LB_960426_Israel-Lebanon%20Ceasefire%20Understanding.pdf

[7] https://undocs.org/S/2001/66.

[8] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/2373.

[9] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/2485.

[10] https://unifil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/s_2019_574_e.pdf.

[11] Inter alia: M. Serafino, “Peacekeeping and Related Stability Operations: Issues of U.S. Military Involvement”, 2006 (https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20050625_IB94040_5f2a2330dfecce62ec7f62544dd3ba93d2e43767.pdf).

[12] Chiara Ruffo, Military Cultures in Peace and Stability Operations: Afghanistan and Lebanon, PENN 2018.