TEL AVIV – Hezbollah is too busy fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria to take on Israel, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous told the Jerusalem Post.
“What I certainly believe is that Hezbollah for the last three years and for the foreseeable future probably has its hands full in the north helping the Syrian government,” Ladsous said in an interview with the Post at UN headquarters in New York.
“I believe they’re caught up there. Of course it doesn’t mean that the risk of incidents involving these people in the southern half of Lebanon is nil, but I would summarize that they’re very busy right now and that’s their priority,” he added.
Ladsous, a French diplomat and former ambassador to China, also said he believed the presence of 10,500 soldiers from the United Nations Interim Force deters both Israel and Hezbollah from engaging in another conflict.
At the end of the Second Lebanon War, UNIFIL was bolstered with troops from several European countries including Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, and Germany.
The 10th anniversary of the war will occur next month.
In addition to deploying forces in the region, UNIFIL also holds monthly tripartite meetings with officers from the IDF and the Lebanese Armed Forces – something Ladsous also claims has acted as a deterrent.
“Talking with both sides and stepping in at any moment when there is a need for discussion of an incident … that is the confidence-building,” he said.
Ladsous brushed aside claims from the IDF that UNIFIL’s efforts are in vain since it does not allow its forces to enter Lebanese villages used by Hezbollah to cache weapons. UNIFIL must first receive permission from the Lebanese Armed Forces before entering a village.
He admitted that Israel had shown him photographs of alleged Hezbollah activity beyond the Blue Line – the border set by the UN in 2000 marking the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
“Certainly what UNIFIL does is a lot of patrolling, watching what’s happening, overflying the Blue Line – I did it myself – and trying to be as vigilant as possible,” he said.
Ladsous said that Syria is no longer “peacekeeping territory” and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force deployed there would remain on the Israeli side of the border and be reduced to 750 soldiers instead of 1,200. He added that despite the ongoing turmoil in Syria, UNDOF’s mission was still needed.
“The message we got consistently both from Jerusalem and from the Damascus side was that actually both sides attach value to UNDOF continuing its mission,” he said. “In a part of the world which has so many problems, I think nobody would want to even consider the risk that the Golan Heights may become again yet another problem in that environment. I think the point is well understood.”