UN Blue Line in Lebanon – not a border, but a "line of withdrawal"

Here is a statement from the UNIFIL spokesperson in Lebanon today:
Following the exchange of fire between the Lebanese army and the Israeli army across the Blue Line in El Adeisse yesterday, the UNIFIL investigators were on the ground and commenced investigations. The investigations are still ongoing and the findings will be intimated on conclusion of the investigations. UNIFIL established, however, that the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side. In this area the Lebanese government had some reservations concerning the Blue Line, as did the Israeli government at some other locations, at the time the Blue Line was identified in the year 2000 as the Line of Withdrawal of Israeli Forces from Lebanon. However, both Lebanon and Israel confirmed to the UN Secretary-General that, notwithstanding their reservations, identifying the Line was solely the responsibility of the United Nations and that they will respect the Line as identified. The UN position is that the Blue Line must be respected in its entirety by all parties. UNIFIL is in contact with both the parties to keep the situation under control and to ensure that there is no violation of the Blue Line in this area.

The IDF reports today that “In an interview on Wednesday morning (Aug. 4) with Israeli Army Radio, Hungarian diplomat Milos Strugar, who is serving as the political advisor to the UNIFIL commander, explained that the work carried out by the IDF along the border with Lebanon took place within Israeli territory and was coordinated ahead of time with the Lebanese army. ‘The Israelis pruned a tree south of the Blue Line. The pruning was done in the area of the Al-Adaisah village, north of Misgav-Am. A UNIFIL technical crew will go to that area today and measure the distance between the area where the incident took place and the Blue Line’ … Strugar emphasized that the IDF coordinated the pruning work with the Lebanese Army through UNIFIL. ‘I can confirm that the IDF had coordinated the pruning work along the border with the Lebanese Army through UNIFIL. The IDF informed UNIFIL that it would be pruning a tree on the northern side of the border fence, but south of the international border line’. Strugar added that the situation immediately intensified, as the Lebanese Army was also in the area. ‘Our people who were there tried to pacify the situation and to enable the IDF’s work. In the morning, the IDF informed us of their work and we passed that on to the Lebanese Army. Our investigation into this subject is not completed, and I am awaiting the final report which will be publicized today’, Strugar added”. The IDF account of Strugar’s remarks went on to say that “The Hungarian diplomat said that UNIFIL personnel ‘face many complaints regarding provocations and arousals by the Lebanese Army against IDF soldiers on a daily basis. There are many incidents and we operate in order to prevent them. This happens almost every day. There is a great deal of tension on the border’. That being said, he added that ‘what happened today cannot be compared to anything else. This is the most serious incident which took place since 2006’.” This IDF story is posted here.

Elsewhere, the IDF website continues to argue, incorrectly, that the Blue Line is a border, or a de facto border. It is not. Maybe, someday, it might become a border — or it might not. But for the time being, the Blue Line is nothing other than a demarcation line.

What it demarcates, according to the UNIFIL statement above (confirmed in the internally-contradictory IDF statement, here, which was written with a great deal of imprecision due in part to a certain linguistic laziness, and in part to impatience with any other views), is “the line towards which the IDF withdrew upon conclusion of Operation Litani in 1978, according to UN Security Council Resolution 425”.

This confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement also says, however, that “The Blue Line is an international border between Israel and Lebanon which was determined by the United Nations after the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000”.

But, the United Nations does not determine international borders.

This very same confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement states that “The Blue Line is a temporary line which has not been mentioned in any official agreements between Israel and Lebanon, and which is based on the international border which was determined by the countries in 1923. That being said, it is recognized as a de facto border between the two countries”.

If so, it is recognized in this way only by Israel.

This confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement notes that: “From the First Lebanon War until 2000, IDF forces remained beyond this border line. However, upon the Israeli government’s decision for a one-sided withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the IDF forces returned to Israel and remained, with recognition by the UN of a complete withdrawal by Israel to her authorized and legitimate borders … During the Second Lebanon War in 2996, the IDF crossed the Blue Line and operated there for the duration of a month. However, upon completion of the war and the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, IDF withdrew behind the internationally recognized border line. On Tuesday morning (Aug. 3), IDF forces operated within Israeli territory on the Israeli side of the Blue Line borders, where the IDF has routinely operates in an agreed-upon manner since the end of the Second Lebanon War”…

News reports Wednesday morning say that the IDF has returned to the exact same spot where the Lebanese Army and IDF fired upon each other yesterday, to do the exact same tree-pruning…

8 thoughts on “UN Blue Line in Lebanon – not a border, but a "line of withdrawal"”

  1. Marian,
    The very nature of Blue Line is doesn’t matter in this situation.
    Off cause it can’t be the recognised international border between Israel and Lebanon: the Lebanese doesn’t recognises Israel as a state- who will talk about a borders?
    The issue is not the border status, it is all about maintaining the calm on the border. The Blue Line has been recognized by both Israel and Lebanon as being the line both do not cross and that once it is crossed it restarts the war, because the war never stopped as it never was any peace or agreement beyond not crossing the Blue Line) Israel was south of the Blue Line when the Lebanese army shot at Israeli soldiers (actually they did not shoot at the soldiers removing the tree, they sniped the colonel that was in the observation post further away from those next to the tree. Probably somebody thought that this was a good expensive prize to aim for, a case of personal glory.)
    This clash was useless and created useless loss of life on both sides, it did not even prove a point because the Israelis cut the tree the second day anyway, it again points fingers to the Lebanese government for its lack of control over anything including its army, while all leaders brag about semantics and rights to defend border

  2. It is indeed interesting that the Lebanese Army sniper identified and targetted the commanding officer on the spot, and not the guys trying to cut the tree…

    What is the relationship between the fence that is shown in the photos, which the Israeli soldier had to be lifted over in a sort of “cherry-picker” in order to reach the tree, and the Blue Line?

    While the nature of the Blue Line might not be the issue, why call it a border, then? Especially if it is not a border? The reason, it seems to me, is to attempt to sway opinion and dominate arguments (by misleading via confusion)…

  3. LA sniper’s design to shoot those officers was not spontaneous one: this whole “skirmish” was thoroughly planned operation.
    This tree pruning happens every week on northern side of the security fence (between fence and Blue Line), why only on this day they decided to stop Israeli aggression on Lebanese territory?
    Also, I’m wondering: why there were several television crews, that started translation long before the shooting had happened?

  4. About the Blue Line: it wasn’t drawn at 2000, when Israel withdrawn from South Lebanon, neither at 1949, when Israel was created, it was drawn at 1923 as result of “Treaty of Sèvres” (that divided Ottoman Empire territories between British and French).

    The Blue Line is the line dividing between Syria (French Mandate) and Palestine (British Mandate).

    Later, Israel and Lebanon borders were based on the borders between two Mandates.
    So, Blue Line should be the de-jure border between Lebanon and Israel (except of several disputed territories, like Sheba Farms).

    P.S. Another interesting thought: if Lebanese consider the territory between Blue Line and Israeli security fence as their territory, therefore, the whole Blue Line itself is a huge violation of Lebanon sovereignty, cause it subtract a quite piece of land from the Lebanon.

  5. Yeah, I’ve heard this in the Israeli arguments — that the presence of at least one journalist (the one who was killed, maybe he’s the only one we know about for sure) is proof that the operation was pre-planned.

    But, he could have been there by pure coincidence…

    Or, as the engagement continued for some hours, he could have arrived there quickly to try to carry out his journalistic duties…

    The presence of the journalist is not, of course, proof of anything.

    This reminds me, however, of my friend a former AP correspondent in Damascus, many years ago, who was arrested and got a first-hand but rather uncomfortable look at the inside of Mezzeh Prison when he (really) just happened to be passing by in front of the Post Office when a bomb went off there … and he was completely uninvolved. His time in prison was most informative, however.

  6. When the UN carried out the demarcation along what should one day become a border, it used (UN) blue paint.

    It more or less approximated the demarcation you mentioned, but some of the previous markers were missing — so the UN just guessed, or made its own decision, in some areas, pending a future agreement…

  7. Looking through the archives, I found that I wrote on this blog, on 2 December 2006, that “The UN should never have gotten into the business of demarcating borders …
    The second time the UN got into this boundary demarcation business was after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 — but at the time the UNSG very pointedly stated that the Organization was ‘not engaged in a border demarcation exercise’. The UN said they were just trying to determine the line behind which Israel must withdraw. On 16 June 2000, [then-] UNSG Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that he was ‘in a position to confirm that Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon in compliance with resolution 425 (1978)’. To do this, of course, Kofi Annan had to know more or less what the frontier was, between Lebanon and Israel. And there, he ran into difficulty. To overcome the problem, the SG proposed that the line separating the UNIFIL (UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon) area of operations from that of the UN Disengagement Observer force (UNDOF) operating in the Golan Heights ‘be adopted for the purpose of confirming Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon’. After an exercise involving cartographers, engineers, and painting stones and other markers with ‘UN blue’ paint, this withdrawal line is now known as the ‘blue line’ … Kofi Annan explained in 2000 that no international boundary agreement has been concluded between Lebanon and Syria, and that his decision was based on a post-World War I deal between colonial powers Britain and France, that adjusted the border between the mandates they operated in the Middle East. (In this deal, Britain gave a small piece of its Palestine Mandate to France’s Syrian Mandate, in exchange for France’s acquiescence in Britain’s ‘administrative’ separation of Transjordan from Palestine.) Kofi Annan noted that the 1923 British-French deal was reaffirmed in the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement signed on 23 March 1949, which was designed to settle the fighting that broke out upon Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine and Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 … Resolution 1701 asked the UNSG to develop proposals for demarcation of the boundary in areas that are disputed or uncertain, including the Shebaa farms. The SG’s proposals, which were to have been delivered within 30 days of the 14 August cease-fire, were delivered in a ‘status report’ to the UN Security Council on Friday 1 December. Reuters’ Senior UN Correspondent Evelyn Leopold reports that Annan told the Security Council that ‘he had sent a senior cartographer to review the material on the Shebaa Farms area, a strip of land occupied by Israel which Lebanon claims as its own but the United Nations says is part of Syria. He said he took ‘careful note’ but gave no recommendations on Lebanon’s proposal to put the Shebaa Farms under UN jurisdiction until a permanent border was delineated’.” etc…

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