Irish chief of Unifil backed after attack by US ambassador to UN

Nikki Haley said Maj-Gen Mike Beary ‘blind’ to alleged HIzbullah activities in Lebanon

The Department of Foreign Affairs has defended Maj-Gen Mike Beary (above), saying his “outstanding record of leadership in numerous international peace-keeping roles speaks for itself”. File photograph: Unifil/UN

The Department of Foreign Affairs has defended Maj-Gen Mike Beary (above), saying his “outstanding record of leadership in numerous international peace-keeping roles speaks for itself”. File photograph: Unifil/UN

 

The United Nations’ peacekeeping mandate in southern Lebanon, in which Ireland is heavily involved, has been renewed and strengthened but only after further personalised attacks by the Trump administration on the Irish head of Unifil, Major-General Mike Beary.

Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs defended Maj-Gen Beary, saying his “outstanding record of leadership in numerous international peace-keeping roles speaks for itself”.

The UN Security Council decided, late on Wednesday, to renew the Unifil mandate, which dates from 1978 and under which over 10,500 troops from 41 countries monitor the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and subsequent cessation of hostilities. The mandate also charges Unifil, which includes 378 Irish troops, to “ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities of any kind” - an aspect of the force’s mission which Israel has long charged Unifil does not implement with sufficient vigour.

The renewed mandate asks UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to examine whether Unifil can increase its visible presence, including through patrols and inspections, both of which it already does.

Near impunity

Israel maintains that Hizbullah, the Iranian-supplied and Lebanon-based armed group seeking the destruction of the Jewish state, operates with near impunity in southern Lebanon, a claim supported strongly by the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

Ms Haley has personalised her criticisms by targeting Maj-Gen Beary. On August 25th, she accused Unifil of “giving terrorism a pass” and said Maj-Gen Beary was “blind” to Hizbullah’s alleged activities, which she characterised as a “massive flow of illegal weapons” into southern Lebanon.

The Unifil commander had “an embarrassing lack of understanding of what’s going on”, she said. . . “He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind to what Hizbullah is doing.”

While citing ample evidence to support her charges, neither Ms Haley, nor the Israeli government which promotes the accusation, produced any to substantiate it.

Maj-Gen Beary, who in 2016 was appointed head of Unifil - the most senior overseas post held by a Defence Forces officer - said his force had no evidence of weapons being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the area, adding “if there was a large cache of weapons, we would know about it”.

On Wednesday night during the Security Council debate about the mandate renewal, Mr Haley returned to the fray, claiming the “clouds of war” were gathering in south Lebanon and once again attacking Maj-Gen Beary.

“We have to be honest,” she told the Security Council. “For too long, Unifil’s leadership has failed to make sure this goal is realised. In particular, Unifil commander General Beary’s lack of understanding of the threat Hizbullah poses to the region is baffling.”

Ms Haley’s judgment is not shared by the Government. Commenting last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued this statement: “Ireland welcomes the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council to renew the Unifil mandate. Unifil’s fundamental task is to prevent any possibility of a resumption of major hostilities between Israel and Lebanon until such time as the Lebanese Armed Forces can take up this responsibility.

‘Especially proud’

“That task remains crucial. Despite the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, Unifil has helped to ensure that southern Lebanon has remained an area of relative calm since 2006. The Minister [Simon Coveney] is especially proud of the service of our own Defence Forces, who first deployed to Lebanon in 1958 and who continue to serve there today.

“During his tenure as Minister for Defence, it was his pleasure to nominate Major General Beary for the post of force commander and head of mission of Unifil. Major General Beary’s outstanding record of leadership in numerous international peace-keeping roles speaks for itself.”

Senior colleagues of Maj-Gen Beary also spoke out in his defence, noting he had an extensive track record, both at senior rank within the Defence Forces and the UN, including senior positions within Unifil prior to his assuming command, and was a graduate of the National Defence University in Washington DC.

“He’s the real deal as far as we’re concerned,” said one colleague, “and he’s very well regarded, in Ireland and abroad.”