Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday accused foreign “cyber armies” of waging a campaign to sway Lebanese public opinion against the Iran-backed Shi’ite terror group.
“There are countries that use cyber armies maliciously and try forcing public opinion on other countries. They pay tens of millions of dollars to the media to disseminate lies about Hezbollah,” said Nasrallah.
“The media campaign currently confronting the resistance is unprecedented. They implement a policy of attack via articles and media outlets, all originating from one government in one dark room,” he said, adding, “For example, we see the same news on channels such as Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath, Sky News and several others.”
The Hezbollah chief also warned Israel that he would retaliate for last Wednesday’s border skirmish, in which Israel Defense Forces aircraft struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon after Israeli troops came under fire from inside Lebanon.
“The decision to respond is still valid; the response will be serious and calculated,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, unanimously approved a resolution Friday cutting its peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and expanding its mandate to address U.S. and Israeli concerns about Hezbollah activities along the border.
The French-drafted resolution reduced the troop ceiling for the force, known as UNIFIL, from 15,000 to 13,000 under US pressure. It also calls on the Lebanese government to facilitate “prompt and full access” to sites requested by U.N. peacekeepers for investigation, including tunnels crossing the U.N.-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel. The resolution also urges freedom of movement and unimpeded access for peacekeepers to all parts of the Blue Line, and condemns “in the strongest terms” all attempts to restrict U.N. troop movements and attacks on mission personnel.
In 2019, Israel destroyed a series of attack tunnels dug under the border by Hezbollah.
The resolution gives the United States a symbolic victory, but it will almost certainly also be welcomed by many countries that view UNIFIL as critical to maintaining peace in the volatile region and strongly support its current mandate, which is largely maintained for another year.
“Today we halt a long period of Council complacency on UNIFIL and the growing and destabilizing influence of Iran and its client, the terrorist organization Hezbollah,” U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said in a statement after the vote. “The Trump Administration is deeply concerned these last years about UNIFIL’s overall inability to contain the Hezbollah menace. We are not going to allow this to stand,” she said, adding, “The Council must join us in confronting this.”
Kraft also urged Lebanon’s government to redouble efforts to ensure that UNIFIL can discharge its mandate.
“If, however, today’s action does not trigger necessary improvements, including improved access for UNIFIL and steps to diminish the vast and growing Hezbollah arsenal of weapons, council members must be prepared to take further action when the mandate comes up for renewal next year,” she said.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan went further, calling the resolution “a last warning” for Lebanon’s government and declaring that it “will be held responsible and will bear full responsibility for any escalation of tensions or the grave consequences of such actions” if Hezbollah continues turning southern Lebanon “into a base for its terrorist activity under UNIFIL’s nose.”
Erdan said Israel will respond “with force” to any terrorist attacks from Lebanese territory.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 15 members of the council voted by email. Security Council president, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, sent a letter to council members, obtained by AP, saying “the draft resolution received 15 votes in favor … (and) has been adopted as resolution 2539.”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wrote to the council on July 29 recommending a 12-month renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining high troop strength.
While the resolution reduces the troop ceiling from 15,000 to 13,000, it will not require any cuts in the current peacekeeping force. That’s because UNIFIL’s current strength is about 10,250 troops, well below the ceiling.
Craft, the U.S. envoy, called the reduction “an important step toward right-sizing a mission that has for years been over-resourced given the limits on its freedom of movement and access.”
According to UNIFIL, it currently has about 10,250 troops, including more than 9,400 ground troops and over 850 naval personnel assigned to its Maritime Task Force. In addition, the mission has about 900 civilian staff, both international and national.
The resolution affirms the Security Council’s “strong continuing commitment to the existing UNIFIL mandate.” And it reaffirms the necessity for Lebanon’s armed forces to deploy in southern Lebanon and its territorial water “at an accelerated pace” to implement a key mandate provision.
It asks secretary-general Guterres to present the first elements of a plan to improve UNIFIL’s “efficiency and effectiveness” within 60 days.
Dean Shmuel Elmas and Shahar Klaiman contributed to this report.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.