The United Nations Security Council remains at odds over the way its peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon operates on the ground, with the United States backing Israel's demands for major changes.
At a closed council meeting Tuesday on the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL), whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft stressed the need for a new mandate.
"The U.S. has long reiterated publicly and privately that the status quo in Lebanon is unacceptable," Craft said in a statement after the meeting.
"Now is the time to empower UNIFIL, end the long complacency, and enable the mission to fully achieve what it was set out to accomplish."
But Craft faces an uphill struggle because most of the members of the council back a continuation of the current mandate.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written to the council calling for a 12-month renewal of UNIFIL's mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining high troop strength.
UNIFIL, which was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after its 1978 invasion to tackle Palestinian terrorism emanating from the territory.
The mission was expanded after the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Hezbollah terror group to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades after it was under the control first of Palestinian factions and later Hezbollah.
As of June 15, UNIFIL comprised 10,275 military personnel from 45 troop-contributing countries, 238 international civilian staff, and 580 national civilian staff.
Its Maritime Task Force comprised six vessels, two helicopters and 864 of the force's military personnel. However, one vessel was damaged in last week's deadly Beirut explosion and over 20 naval personnel were injured, two critically.
Germany's deputy UN ambassador Günter Sautter on Tuesday told the council in remarks circulated by the country's mission that, "recent tensions and the danger of escalation only underline the importance of UNIFIL presence on the ground."
He said "the new political reality" since the devastating Beirut explosion made it "more important than ever."
"UNIFIL's mandate continues to be of utmost importance," Sautter said. "It is clear that UNIFIL will not be able to do more with less. We therefore fully support UNIFIL in its current mandate and strength, and we hope that the council will once more show unanimous support to this important mission."
Israel has repeatedly accused the Iranian-backed Hezbollah of impeding the UNIFIL peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.
Israel's former ambassador Danny Danon said in May that Jerusalem would insist that peacekeepers have access to all sites, that they have freedom of movement and that any time they are being blocked the UN Security Council must be immediately informed.
Craft also said in May that UNIFIL was being "prevented from fulfilling its mandate" and Hezbollah had "been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk."
She said the Security Council "must either pursue a serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish."
France is expected sometime this week to circulate a draft resolution to continue UNIFIL's operations, and diplomats are predicting tough negotiations before the mandate expires on Aug. 31.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi took diplomats from some of the Security Council member states to the Israel-Lebanon border, where they received an IDF briefing on Hezbollah's attempted infiltration earlier this month.
"Israel cannot remain indifferent in the face of Hezbollah's attempts to harm its civilians," Ashkenazi told the group of 12 ambassadors.
"The organization operates in densely populated urban areas using Lebanese civilians as human shields, as was evident in the recent tragic event in Beirut that caused the death of hundreds of innocent people."