US ambassador Nikki Haley sharply criticized the UN peacekeeping commander in Lebanon on Friday, saying he is “blind” to the spread of illegal arms and reiterating a call for the force to do more about it. He says there is no evidence it is actually happening.
With the peacekeeping mission up for renewal next week, the United States has been pressing to step up efforts to tackle what Haley describes as a “massive flow of illegal weapons” to Hezbollah-dominated southern Lebanon, where neighboring Israel has long complained the militant group operates with impunity.
But the peacekeeping commander, Maj Gen Michael Beary, pushed back on US and Israeli criticism. The Irish general said his force has no evidence of weapons being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the area, and that “if there was a large cache of weapons, we would know about it”.
The US’s ambassador to the UN has differed from Trump on Nato and the Kremlin even as she supports some of the president’s contentious ambitions.
But Haley said there is plenty of evidence including Hezbollah’s own boasts and Beary displayed “an embarrassing lack of understanding of what’s going on”.
“He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind to what Hezbollah is doing,” she said, adding that his view of the situation “shows that we need to have changes” in the mission.
Asked about her comments, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the organization has full confidence in Beary’s work and noted that debate over the mission would play out in the Security Council.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres told the council in a letter that he intends to look at ways for the peacekeeping force to “enhance its efforts,” but he stressed it is primarily the Lebanese military’s responsibility to ensure the south is free of unauthorized weapons.
The peacekeeping mission, known as Unifil, dates to 1978. It was expanded after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah so peacekeepers could deploy along the border with Israel to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades.
Haley has said the US wants “significant improvements” to the force.
“It’s time the Security Council puts teeth in the Unifil operation,” she said. “We don’t need to be giving terrorists a pass.”
Discussions are ongoing, and it is not clear how keen the council will be on the US approach. Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the mandate should be renewed as is and added that other countries had voiced the same view during a council discussion.
French deputy ambassador Anne Gueguen, whose country is in charge of drafting a proposed renewal, said it was “of paramount importance for the stability of Lebanon and the region, and in the best interest of all, that Unifil keeps its mandate and is in a position to fulfill it.”