Yesterday witnessed the most serious clash on the border with Lebanon since the 2006 Lebanon war; it lead to the death of one member of the IDF and the wounding of another.
A bit of background:
The de facto border between Lebanan and Israel, known as the Blue Line, was set in place and sanctioned by the UN in 2000 as the demarcation between Israel and Lebanon: In 2000, Israel called an end to Operation Litani — an operation of 20 years standing, during which the IDF maintained a presence in southern Lebanon as a bulwark against terrorist attacks into Israel’s north by Palestinian Arabs. At that time, the UN certified that Israel was no longer in Lebanese territory when the IDF had pulled south of the Blue Line.
(The history of this line — presumably going back to 1923 — is not highly relevent in this context: What matters is that the UN officially sanctioned this as the demarcation between Israel and Lebanon in 2000.)
A fence runs along the border between Israel and Lebanon, but it is not in all areas absolutely contiguous with the Blue Line. In certain areas because of topography (perhaps rocky, hilly terrain), the fence runs south of the Blue Line, inside of Israel. Israel however, has never relinquished claim to the enclaves between the fence and the Blue Line, where it runs north of that fence. In fact, the IDF routinely moves into those enclaves, for maintenance and to consistently clarify the fact of Israeli sovereignty there. Israel’s unqualified position is that land south of the Blue Line is Israeli territory.
UNIFIL (the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon) was a presence in Lebanon before 2006. But with the end of the Second Lebanon War and UN Security Council resolution 1701, its numbers were increased and its mandate enhanced: It was to operate between the Blue Line and the Litani River (i.e., in southern Lebanon), essentially at the bidding of/to provide assistance to the Lebanese army, in an effort to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming and operating in southern Lebanon. My readers are well aware of the farce that this has been and we need not visit this issue right here. The essential point is that the UNIFIL is in the area north of the Blue Line and cooperates with the Lebanese army.
What is also of significance here is that when the IDF moves into an enclave between the fence and the Blue Line, it routinely notifies UNIFIL, which apparently routinely notifies the Lebanese army.
Yesterday began with a routine movement of the IDF into an enclave between the Blue Line and the fence. UNIFIL had been notified of IDF intentions to remove some trees (that were blocking a surveillance camera on a lookout post in a nearby Kibbutz); this was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM. UNIFIL notified the Lebanese army, and then, on instructions from the army, requested that the IDF delay a couple of hours.
That delay provided time for one or more officers in the Lebanese army to lay an ambush and to invite media. As the IDF entered the area, snipers began to shoot. Bullets aimed at the head of Lt. Col. Dov Harari killed him. A second officer was seriously wounded but has since been moved out of intensive care.
Israel retaliation was swift: shelling of a military vehicle in the Lebanese border town of Adaisseh killed three Lebanese soldiers; one Lebanese journalist was also killed.
Today, the IDF went back to the area and proceeded with the removal of the trees, not only because those trees required removal, but to make the point clear that Israel was within its jurisdiction to operate there.
Several point are noteworthy with regard to this lethal incident. Perhaps most significant is that this is not terrorist Hezbollah we are speaking of, but the regular Lebanese army. While undoubtedly Hezbollah, which is dominant in the area, knew of what was about to take place, it was not directly involved. The implications are huge.
What is more, the presence of the media speaks to the deliberate premediation of the attack on the IDF.
In a departure from the norm, the UN stands with Israel in this case. UNIFIL, the eyes of the UN in that area, has verified that Israel remained south of the Blue Line in Israeli territory.
The question has been raised, however, as to whether UNIFIL, though not directly complicit, knew about the planned attack and did nothing. The possibility most certainly exists, as, over the years, the UN forces in Lebanon have closed their eyes to a great deal indeed (such as the rearming of Hezbollah by Syria).
The irony is that, amidst considerable controversy about UNIFIL’s failure to fulfill its mandate, that mandate was just extended by the Security Council in late July.
The defense of Lebanon with regard to this incident is that some land below the Blue Line is actually Lebanese territory, and that the IDF had entered Lebanon in defiance of Resolution 1701. They have not a leg to stand on, but Hezbollah and the Lebanese government (which today are one and the same) make claims as it suits them.
A position of strength from us is imperative at this point.
From Egypt sources comes the charge that the Grad rockets fired at Eilat and Aqaba were fired by an armed Palestinian faction from Gaza, operating in the Sinai.
Speaking at a press conference today, Southern District Police Commander Yohanan Danino said that Eilat has now been placed on the list of areas threatened by terror.