Theater of Cruelty

UN on the way home

The UN forces have been in Lebanon for 28 years. Now they are packing their cases – in crossfire.


Nearly 2000 UN soldiers in southern Lebanon, scheduled to be sent home for good by the end of the month, ended this week in crossfire. July 17, 17 Unifil positions were fired by two Israeli rockets. One UN soldier was seriously injured.

On the same day, the UN Security Council discussed Unifil's future without making any decision to extend its mandate, which now expires after 28 years of efforts. This means that the soldiers who are supposed to serve as a military buffer between Hezbollah and Israel will have to pack their camps next week. UN envoys present a proposal to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week to extend the Unifil force. The goal is to end the bloody battles. At the same time, the EU has called for a new international force for Lebanon.

- I will be surprised if the Security Council does not renew the mandate now, but it is true that the assignment expires on 31 July, confirms Chief of Staff Roy Grøttheim in the UN observer force Untso.

The Norwegian colonel's international military observer corps has many tasks that overlap with the Unifil force, and four of the Norwegian observers are under Unifil's commander.

No other international military force has had stronger Norwegian participation than Unifil in Lebanon. 34.000 Norwegian soldiers have served in Lebanon.

- Both Untso and Unifil have had problems lately. We experience protection against our records. Fortunately, none of my soldiers in Untso have been injured yet, but it is clear that the shelling from both sides makes the mission difficult, he says.

The problem of the Unifil force has been the lack of resources and the lack of peace in both Israel and Hezbollah. Nearly 300 Lebanese, the vast majority of civilians, have been killed in the Israeli attacks. At the same time, 25 people have been killed in Israel.

- I think the reason why it is crucial for someone to talk about a new force now, and not the existing UN force, is to make the matter more palatable for Israel, says Hilde Henriksen Waage, Middle East expert and 1st amanuensis at University of Oslo.

She describes it as very strange that politicians and the press seem to have forgotten that there is a UN force in the area, which is now on its way out.

- By not renewing the mandate, it has in practice been decided to send Unifil out. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah has been particularly happy to have them there. Unifil has limited the room for maneuver of the warring parties.

- What kind of signal is sent if the UN has to withdraw 2000 Unifil soldiers on 31 July?

- It will be a very negative signal. Then you say indirectly that you leave the civilian population to the discretion of the warring parties.


  • 34.000 Norwegian soldiers have served in Unifil in Lebanon.
  • Norway withdrew in 1999. The UN force was then prioritized in favor of NATO operations.
  • The Unifil force now consists of only 1991 soldiers and a few hundred civilians. The soldiers are from France, China, Ghana, Ireland, Italy and Poland respectively.
  • The mandate is to be a military buffer between Hezbollah and Israel, as well as to monitor and secure the disputed areas of southern Lebanon.

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