Lebanon regularly reports arms being smuggling into the country from Syria but the authorities are treading softly due to their fragile political situation, a senior U.N. envoy said on Monday.
Government officials have informed the United Nations of smuggling as recently as “the last few weeks,” although they are providing no information on the quantities or types of arms being secreted across the border, said Terje Roed-Larsen, the top U.N. diplomat on Lebanese ties with Syria.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, quoting Roed-Larsen, said the officials were not being precise about the smuggling for fear of retaliation from Syria.
“The absence of complete cooperation by the government of Syria remains very troubling in that respect and I think it’s very courageous for any of the democratic politicians in Lebanon to go about their business under that kind of threat,” Bolton told reporters.
Asked about Bolton’s comments, Roed-Larsen said he had no specific information about threats of retaliation.
But he noted there had been 14 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon since the February 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
“Generally speaking, the situation in Lebanon is worrisome,” Roed-Larsen said. “The political rhetoric shows that there are very high tensions, and I think we have to look at the situation in Lebanon with all caution.”
Syria acknowledges there might be smuggling but insists the border is porous and very difficult to control, he said.
Security Council resolutions in 2005 and 2006 imposed an arms embargo on Lebanon and called on it to disarm all militias on its soil, including Hezbollah, an armed group as well as a part of the Lebanese government.
Israel regularly accuses Syria of continuing to smuggle arms to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, in violation of the August 14 ceasefire ending the 34-day Israeli-Hezbollah war.
Israel has insisted on conducting surveillance flights over southern Lebanon, which also violate the ceasefire, saying it needs to do so to monitor the smuggling.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a parliamentary committee two weeks ago, “if it turns into a steady occurrence, we will deal with the smuggling ourselves.”
Roed-Larsen praised Lebanon’s efforts to end the smuggling by deploying soldiers along the border with Syria and in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah guerrillas are active.
“I think the government of Lebanon is doing its very best to stop the transport of weapons across the border,” he said. “If this is sufficient, only time can show.”