Lebanon: Good fences do not always make good neighbours

Reporting from Jerusalem, The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood wrote on August 3rd about the cross-border attack on Israeli troops near Misgav Am. As may be expected, Sherwood’s account neglects to mention some critical information about the incident.

This area of the international border is known as the UN 2000 Blue Line (because its course was stipulated by the UN when Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000).  In addition to the actual border fence, there’s a second Israeli fence on the Israeli side of the international border. The soldiers involved in the incident were clearing vegetation from both sides of this fence, but were still within Israeli territory (see map below). The IDF regularly engages in such vegetation clearing operations on all Israel’s borders in order to deny cover to terrorists or would-be kidnappers of Israeli soldiers or civilians. Both the Lebanese army and UNIFIL were informed two weeks prior to the day that the IDF would be carrying out pruning operations on that specific date.

Whilst the soldiers were at work, two of their commanders stood nearby, supervising the operation. These two officers were suddenly hit by sniper fire and seriously wounded. The battalion commander later died and the captain is in critical condition with serious chest wounds. The soldiers responded with gunfire towards the direction of the sniper fire. The local command centre of the Lebanese army in Al-Taybeh was also brought under helicopter fire. At one point the Lebanese army requested a halt in hostilities to allow them to evacuate their wounded. The IDF granted this request, but half an hour later, Israeli tanks on the Israeli side of the border came under RPG attack, so fire was returned.

At present it is not yet clear whether the attack was the action of rogue Lebanese Army soldiers (perhaps loyal to Hezbollah) or if it had approval from higher up the chain of command. That information will no doubt come to light within the next few days, but what is obvious is that – contrary to the impression which Harriet Sherwood is obviously trying to give – this was a pre-planned ambush of Israeli forces working inside Israeli territory.

Sherwood quotes ‘Lebanese media reports’ (without specifying her sources) as saying that the incident occurred due to Israelis crossing the ‘blue line’ in order to uproot trees.  In addition to the utter incoherence of such a sentence (is she claiming that the LAF fired on IDF troops in defence of Lebanese Cedars which were under attack?), even Ms. Sherwood should know that some of the Lebanese media is controlled by Hezbollah, and seeing that the surviving (although injured) reporter present at the incident on the Lebanese side of the border works for Hizbollah’s media outlet, all information from such sources should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism.

So why did this incident occur? It is vital to see this attack within the general framework of the actions being taken on an almost daily basis to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Cross-border provocations, rocket attacks, flotillas, BDS, Lawfare, demands for UN tribunals; the aim of those engaging in all such actions is the same – to prevent significant steps being made on the road to a peaceful solution to the long and painful conflict.

It is also worth remembering that the Special Tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 is about to present its conclusions in the coming weeks. Despite Hassan Nasrallah’s latest fairy-tale claims that Israel is responsible for the murder anyone who has been following the Tribunal’s progress knows that ‘undisciplined elements’ of Hizbollah are set to be the scapegoats, thereby getting Hizbollah proper and Syria off the hook. What better way to distract the world’s attention from the whitewashing of an investigation of such prominence than to stir up some cross-border violence?

The Lebanese president is already very unwisely engaging in some stirring of his own by calling on his country to “stand up to Israel’s violation of UN Resolution 1701, “whatever the cost.” Hamas has expressed their approval of the Lebanese attack and Egypt and Syria have added their two pennyworth as well, coming out in support of Lebanon. For now we can only hope that this will remain an isolated incident and that the elements engaged in trying to destabilise the region will not get the upper hand and once more plunge it into conflict.

We can also send wishes for a speedy recovery to Captain Ezra Lakia and sympathies to the family of Lt. Col. Dov Harari who was killed whilst serving on what should have been his last stint of reserve service.

As the map shows, the Blue Line is not tremendously close to the road adjoining the fence.
Lt. Col (Res.) Dov Harari, who was killed today by Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) fire will be laid to rest tomorrow (Wednesday), August 4th 2010.
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