Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, issued his warning from southern Lebanon, a few kilometers from the Israeli border. “Lebanon does not need a war, to say the least,” he said on the first day of his visit to the Land of Cedar. Not to mention that this war could have significant escalatory effects on the entire region.”
The Minister of the Armed Forces is in Lebanon for two days. His trip ends this Friday with several meetings planned, including the interim Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and the head of the armed forces, Joseph Aoun. Officially, Sébastien Lecornu, who had already visited Beirut last December, is coming to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Drakkar attack, which occurred on October 23, 1983 and in which 58 French paratroopers died.
Unofficially, this new trip on the part of a French political official is first and foremost a pretext to reaffirm France's attachment to the stability of Lebanon. “An absolute priority for France (…). Lebanon does not need an external war while it is going through a major institutional crisis,” said the minister during his trip to Deir Kifa, in the south of Lebanon, on one of the bases of the Interim Force of the United Nations for Lebanon (UNIFIL). Some 700 French soldiers are deployed there as part of the UN peacekeeping mission on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Since the start of the war in Gaza on October 7, there have been daily exchanges of fire between the IDF on one side and Hezbollah and its Palestinian allies on the other. These incidents have already caused the death of 66 people in southern Lebanon, according to a count by Agence France-Presse, including forty-eight Hezbollah fighters. Eight soldiers and one civilian were killed on the Israeli side, according to Israeli authorities.
“At the Lebanese border, the security situation is deteriorating,” worried the French minister. In recent days, Israeli fire has taken place outside the five kilometer zone commonly accepted within the framework of the “rules of engagement” between the belligerents while Hezbollah launched a first surface-to-air missile from Lebanese territory to eliminate an Israeli drone.
The current escalation, however, involves the 10,500 UNIFIL soldiers, who find themselves caught in the crossfire. One of them was seriously injured during a skirmish in the al-Houla region. The headquarters of the Interposition Force, located in Naqoura, on the border, was damaged by a shell explosion. “No one has an interest in putting UNIFIL in an untenable situation since no one has an interest in its departure,” warned the French minister.
A call to order while the growing number of incidents and the fear of the opening of a second front on the Lebanese border are pushing certain countries, members of UNIFIL, to consider a reduction in its missions or even a withdrawal of their soldiers. “The United Nations must take responsibility, particularly for the degree of protection of the soldiers involved. But it is also the responsibility of the actors present on both sides of the border,” said Sébastien Lecornu.
Before continuing: “Shouldn’t UNIFIL stop its patrols? No, quite the contrary. It is now that we need deterrence (which it provides on the ground, Editor’s note) to precisely avoid escalation.” The speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, who is due to speak this Friday, for the first time since the start of the war, will say whether the numerous calls for de-escalation have been heard.