My experience in Lebanon was fascinating
All sacrifices that Lebanese army is presenting are really great for the security role and the populations should be proud of
There is a long history between UNIFIL and Lebanon since 1978, but after 1701, its role in the south of Lebanon took another faces, and its mission is to monitor, support and assist. The main face is to control the security, shoulder to shoulder with the Lebanese armed forces «LAF» to protect the blue line, and they maintain a great and Strategic relationship with them in several sectors. The same policy UNIFIL is depending with the southern inhabitants, where they are doing many different activities in many sectors like as medical, educational and infrastructure…
What Major General Paulo Serra said to “aljeish” magazine about his experience, at the end of his mendate?
• Can you explain the relationship between the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL?
- I can define this relationship in two words, it’s a “strategic relationship”, so we are really very pleased to help our partners in the Lebanese armed forces (LAF), we are working shoulder to shoulder as brothers in arms every day and every night. I described the «LAF» in the south in another interview as something very peculiar, because they are able to perform quite a wide space of task and they are very committed to work in the south for the benefit of the population, so for us it’s important to work with them, because they are our gate to reach the population. As if it’s very important and easy to build a good relationship and become friends with people who work with them, not only during the operational capability, but also during the training where we work together in patrol during the night and working together all the day.
Assisting the lebanese army
• Throughout the years UNIFIL assisted the army in many fields and ways, what were the main fields of assistance during your mandate? And what do you suggest for the future?
- One of the main achievements that we had together with «LAF» was the signature of the strategic dialogue plan. General Kahwagi and myself signed this plan that started in 2012, and this plan will give the «LAF» in the south in the future the capability to achieve part of the responsibility that UNIFIL has today, so that is the most important issue on the base of that plan we started working together, in order to fulfill this plan in some kind of donors conference, the international support group, now the training center, the “Italy” will soon
help to deploy in the south.
• Is it an Italian training center?
- No it is not Italian, it is a «LAF» training center, but with the support of the Italian bilaterally, so I think it will be a good step to work together with the «LAF» in the south. It will be very effective because they know the area and the population very well, so its easy for them to achieve some results that is quite difficult for us, but they need a good infrastructure, also a command control structure, as if operational capability vehicules, weapons and an update on all these issues, in order to be able to put all the ideas that they have in a good way, so hope during the next years with the strategic dialogue implementation, with the support group activities dedicated to the south, we will be able to see an improvement of the LAF’s capabilities.
By time we understood
the Lebanese in the south
• I assume that you agree that the relationship between UNIFIL and the southern inhabitants is fruitful?
- Yes It’s very fruitful.
• How can you define the relationship between UNIFIL and the southern inhabitants? What about the strategic points you adopted by UNIFIL to convince them in its productive role in Lebanon?
- UNIFIL has been is south Lebanon since 1978, so there is a long history together, there are families that really grew up with UNIFIL, so the people of the south are accustomed to see the vehicles patrolling their roads up and down. we try to be very respectful with their traditions, their customs, and by time we understood the Lebanese in the south and this is something that helps to maintain a good relationship. Sometimes we encountered some unfriendly behavior, but again in light on the high number of activists and patrols, I think that there is a normal percentage of incidents. Our support to the local population is one of the main three basics of the mandate. Our mission is to monitor, support and assist, we monitor the cessation of hostilities, we support the local population and we assist the «LAF» and the Lebanese government in doing their work in the south, so we try to be closer to the local population as much as possible, and we have some kind of specific activity, that we put it under the name of “CIMIC” or civilian military cooperation, so it’s an activity in which our forces are engaging the local population and even in the schools in order to show the kids what are the dangers of the minefields and of the cluster bombs.
We try to be in touch with different levels of society, and we offer our support in the medical care. We also try to be closer to the hospital to share knowledge about the veterinary update, in order to support the farmers that are in the most remote areas in the village, so there are lots of activities that we really try to enforce, in order to be close. one of the points that it’s easy to remember is the efforts that we contributing countries, are really offering to the local municipalities. So every year we have an amount of 2.5 million dollars that are spent in the south to support the local population. As a conclusion our money that is going back to the country, though the work that we are doing, such as water reservoir, sewage projects, roofs for schools, buying computers for educational projects, so there is a
lot of activities that the UNIFIL is doing.
• What about the feedback concerning these activities?
- We are very happy and satisfied with our jobs and the way with which these activities are perceived by the locals, we have a lot of young kids who wave for us when we make patrols in the south, and this is a great satisfaction, because they know that in a couple days we will be in their school with this kind of puppets show, that helps, young female to explain to the kids how they can control themselves and not to approach the Blue Line, so it is as we lay a story, but them it’s very useful to.
The stuff and the risks
• The stuff of UNIFIL consists of how many? How many Lebanese people work with you in southern Lebanon?
- We are around 12000 soldiers and sailors from 37 countries all around the world and there are 1300 civilians employees, 600 of them are international and the rest 700 are Lebanese. UNIFIL is still a very heavy mission, we have 8 ships and 10 helicopters, and we’re still a good deterrence force.
• What kind of risks that UNIFIL is facing in Lebanon and what are your policy and counter measures you take to confront these dangers?
- Actually, there are no direct threats or direct risks against UNIFIL, because we are following the different mandate of a peace support operation, which means that we don’t have any enemies, so this is good for the way, which the mission is working peacefully. Of course the situation around us is very critical and the region is getting under big pressure and some terrorist cells can feel that UNIFIL can be among those who make easy targets, but we are a military force so we are quite able to protect and defend ourselves. Until now we don’t have any direct threat, so we are working without any other update.
Steps against israeli violation
• Israel has repeatedly violated the Blue Line, the Lebanese regional waters, the Lebanese airspace and caused several cross border incidents whether through its foot patrols, naval incursions and reconnaissance airplanes and fighter jets which are daily patrolling Lebanese skies. What were the steps or measures taken by UNIFIL to limit if not to put an end to these violations in coordination with the LAF?
- The main part of our mandates is to monitor the cessation of hostilities, so it is very important for UNIFIL to be able to check, a report and control all the different violations, so any violation is reported to New York to the security council, then we prepare the report which puts a lot of political pressure at the countries who make these violations, so sometimes it’s Lebanon but they are not aggressive violations made by the shepherds or hunters and also against the other country that as you underlined. Those are still outstanding measures that we take line in northern Ghajar that is still under occupation as well as the air violations. The role that UNIFIL can do is very important by trying to minimize the impact of these violations in order to deter any escalation, many of these violations are done with no intent, so they are things that no one planned for, and sometimes this can be very dangerous and it’s very important for UNIFIL to be on the spot immediately to try to calm down and understand what’s going on to address both parties, and make sure that everyone knows his responsibility, and in this case I’m really happy for the way with which our troops so bravely deploy themselves between the two parties in order to deter any escalation.
• Lately, the security situation throughout Lebanon has been very delicate especially in light of the regional crisis, what were the steps taken by UNIFIL to maintain peace and stability in south Lebanon with the aim of making further steps toward the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701?
- Sending the reports is to control the numbers of violations. But there are some things together with the Lebanese army that we are doing to maintain the situation and keep it under control. See the result of place and stability in the area is the most important thing in our activities in the south.
Incidents and measures taken
• During the last month, a series of incidents have occurred in southern Lebanon and included firing rockets from the Lebanese side towards the occupied Palestinian authorities by armed groups attempting to endanger peace and stability in Lebanon? What were the measures taken by UNIFIL in this regard?
- It is a violation of resolution 1701 and this is very concerning not only myself and UNIFIL, but also a concern for all those who is living in the south, because no one wants a break in the cessation of hostilities and this is something very dangerous. So our activity in the south is to prevent any wind of violence and we’re pleased that the «LAF» together with other necessity forces were able to deter many cells in the last days which were responsible for launching the rockets.
• Did you take any measures or steps to avoid these acts?
- Of course, we are increasing our activity.
• How do you increase the activity?
- We increase the number of patrols and checkpoints and the activity performed together, not only on the Blue Line, but in deep territories together with the «LAF» we are showing the information in a better way and working faster to intervene.
• Finally, what is the advice you will be giving to the new international force commander?
- There is no special advice, I wish for him the best and may he enjoy his period here in Lebanon, and I’m sure that he will have the same support of the «LAF» and the locals, and he will see that his mandate was completed fast just like mine.
• Finally, how do you describe your experience?
- It was a fascinating experience.
• Can you compare it with missions in other areas?
- It is much different, you can’t compare it, because in previous military operations or under (NATO) operations, we were only acting as military in a military field, so they were specific military operations, in this area we are head of missions and the force commander at the same time, so we have the capability to be a political and diplomatic master together with the power of the troops, and this is something very unique, so it is important to maintain this double, in order to be able to use this force in all different ways to maintain security in the area.
What the army is doing is really great
• What about your personal relationships with the locals, do you have a special one that you can tell us about?
- Yes, it was very pleasant to have good relations with the area that was very difficult at the beginning, and then after understanding each other and talking to each other, they showed their respect to our job, and we made lots of friendships, not only relations, in the schools of Bint Jbeil, where they are sending the kids to our warehouse, where they can not only receive theoretical study, but to see what they are studying for real. See this is a way while we are pleased to open our base on the civilians and to work together.
• What is the message you want to transfer to the «LAF» and to all parties in Lebanon?
- It is a wish for them to continue working hard, in order to be able to continue to be proud of what they are doing, because what your army is doing is really great for the security role also in the southern level. I really appreciate what they are doing in Tripoli to north to south, I know how stretched they are and how important they are to the locals.