The Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, travelled to Lebanon today to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz as commander and head of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is currently at the stabilisation process.
The mission, which Spain is taking over for the second time and which was established to monitor the ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel, is made up of a contingent of 10,300 military personnel and roughly 800 civilians. Its transfer comes at a delicate time for the stability and future of Lebanon and in the midst of an international conflict following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"This confidence that the United Nations Security Council has placed in the Spanish army, and therefore in Spain, is the best demonstration of Spain's commitment to peace," said the Minister of Defence, who stressed that the Spanish contingent in Lebanon is contributing to the mission in "very difficult situations".
Lázaro Sáenz succeeds Italian General Stefano del Col, who had been in charge of the mission since August 2018. At the handover ceremony, the new head of UNIFIL thanked his predecessor and said he would "follow in his footsteps" in order to "maintain stability in the area, as well as the authority of the Lebanese government".
"The main thing in the road map is to continue to maintain what we are told in the UN mandate: to monitor the cessation of hostilities and try to maintain this scenario of calm, peace and stability to try to support this happy ending which is the permanent cessation of the conflict and to reach these agreements at the diplomatic political level," said General Sáenz Lázaro at the end of the ceremony.
On the other hand, the outgoing Col General thanked in his speech all those present and "above all" those whom he considered to be "friends and dear members of the peacekeeping forces".
During the visit to the Naqoura headquarters, Robles spoke with some of the contingent, whom she congratulated "wholeheartedly" for the work they are doing. "I feel absolutely proud, but not only me, but all Spaniards," the minister stressed.
The Minister of Defence also signed the Book of Honour at the General Headquarters, stressing: "Peace, that precious asset that we must all work for. Today is a great day for Spain".
Robles was accompanied on the visit by the Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro; the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Army, Army General Amador Enseñat; and the Commander of the Operations Command, Air Force Lieutenant General Francisco Braco.
SUSTAINED COMMITMENT TO PEACE
The appointment of the Spanish general is a reflection of the trust that the UN places in Spain and its Armed Forces, due to its commitment to human security and its inclusive model, concerned with the effectiveness and sustainability of the mission and which seeks to strengthen ties at the local level.
The UNIFIL mission is the United Nations instrument for securing peace on the Lebanese-Israeli border, enabling humanitarian aid access to the civilian population and the voluntary and safe return of any displaced persons. To this end, it supports the capabilities and modernisation of the Lebanese Armed Forces and their work south of the Litani River, on the border with Israel.
The Spanish Armed Forces have been committed to this peacekeeping mission uninterruptedly since September 2006, when, following the serious crisis between Israel and Hezbollah, the UN increased its blue cases in the area and asked Spain, France and Italy for a military contribution to renew UNIFIL's mandate, structure and objectives.
Since the beginning of the mission, Spain has been responsible for the complicated Eastern sector, integrating under Spanish command countries as diverse as El Salvador, Serbia and Brazil.
There are currently 620 Spanish military personnel deployed in UNIFIL as part of the Libre Hidalgo operation, 12 of them Guardia Civil personnel. A total of 606 are at the Miguel de Cervantes base in Marjayoun, where the Spanish-led Sector East HQ is located, and another 14 are at the Naquora HQ.
The Spanish military conduct foot and vehicle patrols to permanently monitor the line of separation between Lebanon and Israel, the so-called "Blue Line". They also set up observatories and carry out other activities in collaboration with the Lebanese Armed Forces, all aimed at ensuring compliance with UN Resolution 1701.
A GREAT EXPERT ON LEBANON
General Lázaro is a great expert on Lebanon and the mission itself, where he has been deployed on three occasions and he has been Sector East's Commander. His appointment as head of UNIFIL will contribute to reflecting the added value that Spain can provide to international peace and security in an area that is essential for regional and global stability.
Particularly noteworthy in his career are his assignments at the Headquarters of the Rapid Operational Euroforce (Florence), at the High Readiness Multinational Land Headquarters (Valencia), the command of the Mechanised Brigade 'Guzmán el Bueno' and the command of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment 'La Reina' (Córdoba).
In addition to those three deployments to Lebanon, General Lázaro has also taken part in three other peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the command of the United Nations (UNPROFOR), NATO (SFOR) and the European Union (EUFOR), respectively.
He was promoted to Major General in 2020 and was appointed Director of Army Personnel Assistance. His academic training includes Spanish and NATO Staff courses, Civil-Military Cooperation course, Gender Advisor in Operations, Recovery and Stabilisation Strategies and Strategic Leadership in the Global Social Security Environment courses, as well as his participation as a speaker and student in several seminars and forums.
General Lazaro is fluent in English, French and Italian and holds several national and foreign military awards.