Harriet Sherwood misleads on Syrian weapon crisis with distorted reading of Res. 1701

The Guardian has published several articles on suspected military strikes, over the last several days, by the Israeli Air Force, which likely targeted sophisticated weaponry (possibly Russian made SA-17 anti-aircraft missilesreportedly on its way to the Iranian backed terror group, Hezbollah, illegally based in Lebanon.

Israeli officials have been warning for months that the IDF will not allow the transfer of advanced Syrian weapons – including chemical and biological weapons – to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front and Hezbollah.  

Assuming reports of the Israeli strikes are accurate, it may indicate that Assad had decided test Israeli resolve to prevent such arms transfers.

Harriet Sherwood’s latest report on the conflagration in Lebanon, ‘Israeli warplanes violate Lebanese airspace, Feb 1, included these passages:

Israeli warplanes flew over Lebanon again on Friday, two days after air strikes targeted a convoy of arms or a weapons research base inside Syrian territory.

Under UN security council resolution 1701, passed following the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, Israeli planes are forbidden from flying over Lebanon. [emphasis added]

Sherwood is referring to the UN security council resolution which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Here are relevant provisions of 1701:

14. Calls upon the government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests Unifil as authorised in paragraph 11 to assist the government of Lebanon at its request;
15. Decides further that all states shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft;
a. the sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories, and;
b. the provision to any entity or individual in Lebanon of any technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items listed in subparagraph (a) above, except that these prohibitions shall not apply to arms, related material, training or assistance authorised by the government of Lebanon or by Unifil as authorised in paragraph 11;

So, by any reading of 1701, arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah (in Lebanon) are prohibited and, therefore, Israeli efforts to prevent such transfers would arguably be justified, according to at least the spirit of the resolution.

Further, and more relevant to the current crisis, 1701 includes the following, which specifically prohibits the continuing presence and arming of Hezbollah – an illegal militia – in Lebanon, by calling for:

  • security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorised in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • Full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state;
  • No foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its government;

Yet, it is widely known that Hezbollah has flagrantly violated 1701, as it has continued to maintain and develop a military infrastructure, including sophisticated offensive and defensive weaponry, south of the Litani river, and are believed to possess nearly 1,000 facilities in southern Lebanon, located in up to 270 civilian villages.

Here’s an IDF map illustrating Hezbollah’s ‘illegal occupation’ of Lebanon.

Hezbollah-map-southern-Lebanon

Not only has Hezbollah failed to disarm, but has in fact acquired (from Iran and Syria) an astonishing array of up to 50,000 rockets (4 x the amount they possessed at the end of the 2006 war) which threaten Israel and the entire region – all under the eyes of UN observers (UNIFIL) tasked with preventing the Shiite terror group’s re-arming. 

Interestingly, Sherwood does add, further in her report, that “Western…sources said Israel’s target was a convoy of trucks carrying Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon”, but, not surprisingly, fails to note that such a transfer would necessarily violate 1701.

Even if Sherwood is to argue that reported IAF missions over Lebanon technically violate 1701, the absence of any context regarding Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the resolution for over six years represents another classic example of a Guardian omission which serves to grossly distort the political reality of the region.