Four years after the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah can credit itself with yet another achievement in its campaign against Israel: southern Lebanon is once again in its hands. According to various assessments, the Shi'ite organization has rebuilt its military capabilities north of the Litani River, where it has established a network of missile launchers any army in the world would be proud to possess. Furthermore, it has repaired the infrastructure of the Shi'ite villages south of the Litani that were severely hit in the war.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which was deployed to southern Lebanon in 2006 in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 - passed at the end of the war - was supposed to prevent such activity. In recent months, however, UNIFIL has been harassed by Shi'ite villagers in the southern part of the country who are apparently acting on Hezbollah's orders. The international peacekeeping force, particularly its French battalion, has been repeatedly humiliated by the local population. Villagers have hurled stones and eggs at them, and have even seized soldiers' weapons. UNIFIL's commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, this week asked the Lebanese government to protect his troops.
The confrontation Hezbollah initiated with the French contingent has renewed the internal debate in Lebanon - between the Shi'ite organization and the Al-Mustaqbal camp headed by Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri (and thought to be under French patronage ). While Hezbollah hinted that UNIFIL's French battalion is serving "foreign" (namely, Israeli ) interests, Hariri flew to Paris to conciliate President Nicolas Sarkozy and clarify that Lebanon is interested in keeping French troops on its soil.