As he prepares to leave, UNIFIL head credits existing peace to the parties
As the UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Michael Beary, is wrapping up his term at the helm of the UN peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, he attributes the past two incident-free years to the parties, noting, “In 2017 we have had three times more tripartite meetings than we would have in a normal year. That demonstrates clearly how determined the parties are to keep the peace.”
About 115 regular tripartite meetings have been chaired by UNIFIL since the end of the 2006 war and no party has ever walked out. The UNIFIL-led forum is held with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the UN position at Ras Al Naqoura. They have become an essential conflict management and confidence building mechanism.
Major General Beary took over command of UNIFIL on 19 July 2016, and on 7 August 2018, he will hand over the leadership to Major General Stefano Del Col, a senior general from the Italian army. Before this latest deployment to UNIFIL, Major General Beary spent 10 years on overseas tours of duty, including in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Uganda and Somalia.
This tour of duty was his fourth in south Lebanon spanning a time-period of 36 years. “I’ve been very privileged to have had many opportunities to serve in south Lebanon and in the Middle East,” he says. “My first service here was in 1982 and then subsequently in 1989, ’94, ’95, and now again for this extended period. So, there is a part of Lebanon in me and I think a part of me in Lebanon.”
In his final interview with UNIFIL media, the outgoing head of the UN mission said, “This particular mission this time has been very rewarding in many ways. There has been a very marked transition to a peaceful environment. The last two years we haven’t seen any major incidents between the two parties and stability has been maintained in south Lebanon. It has become something of a mantra for UNIFIL to ensure that we prevent the accidental war, that nothing untoward happens and that we are able to maintain calm.”
He contextualizes this by adding, “Where we probably see the manifestation of this more directly is with people themselves. You see the increase in the population, you see return of tourists which was unheard of really in south Lebanon. But also, throughout the area of operations we see so much commerce, so much agricultural activities, building new houses, new schools, lots of progress and a lift in the economy. It is not perfect, but there is a lift, and that is something that we have to protect, and ensure that the people of south Lebanon enjoy a peaceful future.”
Looking back at the past two years and the work of some 10,500 UN peacekeeping troops from 42 countries and nearly 1,000 civilian peacekeeping personnel, Major General Beary considers the ongoing capacity building work UNIFIL does with LAF as crucial to furthering peace in south Lebanon.
“We must remember that the Lebanese Armed Forces are only in the area for 12 years. They are developing their presence here. We have the Fifth Brigade, the Seventh Brigade and the Fifth Intervention Regiment and we keep encouraging further deployments,” he said. “What’s even more encouraging is that now over 70 of our operations each day are completed in conjunction with LAF. That really is where we need to go, to develop that to a point where the LAF can start taking over responsibility from UNIFIL. And by that, allowing the Lebanese Government to express its own sovereignty in south Lebanon.”
He also credits UNIFIL’s civilian staff with providing the institutional memory that is so important in furthering the Mission’s work, especially given the frequent rotation of troops in and out of the Mission.
Despite being cautiously optimistic about a continued calm in south Lebanon, Major General Beary remains pragmatic about the expectations that peacekeeping missions often must shoulder. “A peacekeeping mission is not a replacement for a political process,” he notes. “We are there to be available daily to both parties through our liaison system to prevent an outbreak of tension that could lead to conflict. But the long-term prospect has to be a permanent ceasefire. And that is where we need the courage of politicians on both sides to stand up and really take that forward. And try and find a diplomatic path towards a permanent ceasefire in this part of the world.”
With a final reflection on his four tours of duty in Lebanon, Major General Beary concludes, “I’m very happy to think, as I depart from UNIFIL and my responsibility here, that next year we will have teenagers in south Lebanon, thirteen years old, who will have not seen what conflict looks like in this part of the world. And I think that’s what we all need to work towards.”
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