- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2010

President Obama hosted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House on Monday to talk about the growing threat that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group, poses to the Middle East. However, if he wanted to address the problem effectively, he should have summoned U.N. officials from New York for a meeting.

U.S. intelligence learned in mid-April that Syria had provided Hezbollah with deadly and accurate Scud missiles. The announcement came on the heels of intelligence last year indicating that Syria had given the Iranian-sponsored terror squad M-600 rockets, which are equipped with a guidance system and the ability to deliver a powerful 200-pound payload.

The reports put the Israelis on tilt. They warned Hezbollah that this would not stand.

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Enter UNIFIL - the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. Its peacekeepers vowed to get to the bottom of the Scud crisis.

Remarkably, UNIFIL’s spokespeople in early May outright denied the existence of shipments of heavy weapons from Syria to Lebanon.

That denial, which appears to contradict U.S. intelligence, wrecks the credibility of the force and the bureaucrats who oversee its work. However, it’s hard to say how much credibility the group had before this most recent crisis.

UNIFIL has a track record of apologizing and even providing cover for the forces of terrorism in Lebanon.

After Hezbollah conducted a raid inside Israel in July 2006, Israel responded with deadly force. The resulting confrontation lasted for more than a month. This prompted the U.N. Security Council to issue a new resolution that would give teeth to a previous resolution (U.N.S.C.R. 1559) calling for the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

A number of Lebanese nongovernmental organizations supporting the so-called Cedar Revolution called upon the United Nations to disarm Hezbollah completely. Iran and Hezbollah, however, were able to persuade the Beirut government, headed then by Fuad Seniora, to back off from such calls and instead increase UNIFIL’s funding and personnel. In the end, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 called for a halt of all weapons shipments to Hezbollah but limited the area in which UNIFIL could operate (Lebanon’s south only).

So, while it technically was illegal, the transfer of Iranian and Syrian weapons to Hezbollah continued for the simple reason that the Syria-Lebanon border was not monitored by UNIFIL.

UNIFIL’s fecklessness became increasingly clear when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made several open declarations from 2006 about his organization’s acquisition of new medium- and long-range missiles. Indeed, Hezbollah boasted of acquiring about 35,000 rockets and missiles as of 2007 (up from 10,000 before the war in 2006).

Thus, Hezbollah received - via Syria and Iran - thousands of weapons in breach of U.N.S.C.R. 1701. UNIFIL issued no statements. It did not launch an investigation. It simply sat back and allowed the Iranian-backed terrorist group to rearm.

This brings us to April of this year. After Israel publicly warned about Syrian Scuds in Hezbollah’s hands, a UNIFIL official declared there were no Scud missiles sent to Lebanon. “We have around 12,000 soldiers and three Lebanese army brigades in a small area. We haven’t seen a thing,” UNIFIL Commander Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas declared.

This reckless statement by a commander of U.N. forces is outrageous. It is even more outrageous considering that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen were complaining about the Hezbollah buildup just as UNIFIL bureaucrats were covering for Hezbollah.

Then there’s the statement itself. Gen. Cuevas admits that his forces only operate in a “small area.” How, then, can he verify that no Syrian missiles entered Lebanon? Indeed, UNIFIL is deployed only in the southern districts of Lebanon, while the entire Bekaa Valley and Mount Lebanon - the area where most of the weapons transfers are known to take place - are beyond UNIFIL’s control.

While Gen. Cuevas says he “hasn’t seen a thing,” Hassan Nasrallah confirms that he has received thousands of missiles so far. In this way, UNIFIL is facilitating a Hezbollah buildup.

It is time for the United Nations Security Council to conduct a thorough review of UNIFIL’s failures. If Hezbollah initiates yet another war with Israel, the world will know that Iran’s proxy started yet another war and that UNIFIL failed to stop it.

Walid Phares is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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