UNIFIL Brings Peace to Distant Waters
By Dialogo January 01, 2013
The leading ship of the United Nations Maritime Task Force, the Brazilian Navy Frigate Liberal (F43) patrols the Mediterranean Sea off the Lebanese coast in search of vessels suspected to be smuggling weapons. In the warm, troubled waters of the Middle East, the F43 now participates in the most important Brazilian naval operation since World War II.
In 1978, the armed commandos of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) attacked Israeli citizens, causing many deaths and leaving many injured. In response to these criminal activities, the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon to counter-attack the PLO strongholds, which were taking refuge and had operational bases in the southern part of the country. The situation represented a serious threat to the region’s peace and stability and, as solicited by the Lebanese government, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was created to ensure the Isreali withdrawal from Lebanon and to assist the Lebanese government in restoring its effective authority in the area, which until then had been dominated by armed groups and terrorists.
In 2006, a new conflict began when the terrorist group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others near the border. Sponsored by Iran, Hezbollah is a Shiite militia responsible for the planning and execution of several terrorist actions against citizens and interests of Israel and other countries. Since its creation in 1982, it has been in an abrasive war against Israel, randomly launching rockets over civilian areas in the contry’s north.
The majority of smuggled weapons and ammunition that enter Lebanese territory to supply Hezbollah does so by water, hidden in cargo ships. In response to a new request by the Lebanese government, which is concerned that the use of its territorial waters for illegal activities may once again pose risks to its national security, and with the purpose of training their Navy, the United Nations reestablished the UNIFIL. It is the first exclusively naval component of any peace mission.
Brazil Takes the Lead
In 2011, Brazil was responsible for sending Rear Admiral Luiz Henrique Caroli to Lebanon to lead this naval component. That same year, the frigate União arrived in Beirut and was replaced at the end of its six-month mission by the frigate Liberal. In 2012, another Brazilian general was assigned the UNIFIL command. Rear Admiral Wagner Lopes de Moraes Zamith now commands an eight-ship fleet from Bangladesh, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Turkey, and even Brazil. These vessels are spread around the Lebanese coast and operate from three different ports: Limassol, in Cyprus; Mersin, in Turkey; and Beirut, which is the port for the Brazilian ship. “The operational aspect requires special coordination to ensure that all these vessels patrol their area of responsibility at the right time to prevent an opportunity that will allow vessels with illegal cargo from entering through any of the Lebanese ports,” Rear Adm Zamith said during his interview with Diálogo.
One of the best equipped frigates of the Brazilian Navy, the Liberal, was appointed the UNIFIL Command and Control Ship and received special equipment before sailing off the Rio de Janeiro Naval Base. These new items included a modern satellite communication system and preparation of the ship for unconventional threats such as terrorism. For that reason, four .50 caliber machine guns were installed. They are operated by the Asymmetric Threats Reaction Group, a specialized troop belonging to the Marines. This is a system with modern speakers, capable of sending messages from a distance, alerting vessels approaching the ship in a suspicious way or, if needed, sending a disruptive audio signal.
In spite of the asymmetric threats having a higher likelihood of occurrence, the Liberal sailed toward the Mediterranean Theater of Operations with full combat capability, its standard weapons consisting of an 11.43 centimeter Vickers MK-8 bow cannon, a Bofors anti-submarine rocket launcher, two Exocet anti-ship missile launchers, an Albatross launcher of Aspide anti-aerial missiles, and two 40 mm cannons, as well as dozens of surveillance sensors, all of which will ensure that the ship is ready to face any type of threat.
The Liberal also carries an aerial detachment onboard, with an AH-11A Super Lynx aircraft belonging to the 1st Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter Squadron, responsible for executing reconnaissance, surveillance, attack, transportation, and MEDEVAC operations. There is also a Combat Diver Detachment onboard that can infiltrate suspicious vessels, or vessels resisting or posing a risk to the Visitation and Inspection Groups.
Rear Adm Zamith states that UNIFIL’s military operations and its ships abide by a specific United Nations’ mandate. Their task to control the area in support of a maritime interdiction operation is critical to the prevention of weapons smuggling into the country. “The ships investigate all those vessels sailing into Lebanese waters, not only those heading into the country’s ports. If there is cause for suspicion, Lebanese authorities are notified so they can board and inspect them. Unless the Lebanese Navy is precluded from boarding these and specifically requests it, the UN ships do so,” said Rear Adm Zamith.
Another function of UNIFIL includes the Lebanese Navy’s preparation, and Brazil’s presence has made a difference in this respect. The bonds of friendship between the two countries and the large Lebanese migration to Brazil have strengthened the relationship between the militaries of both countries. The UN objective is to train the Lebanese forces to eventually assume the responsibility of patrolling their own waters.
For Lieutenant Colonel José Luiz Ferreira Canela, commander of the Liberal, “the participation of our ship in the very long-term mission has proven to be very important to the Brazilian Navy. The understanding obtained from the interoperability with foreign navies in the context of an international peace operation in one of the most sensitive regions in the world has posed many challenges which we have overcome, and proves that our Navy is prepared to bring peace wherever it is needed,” he concluded.