Israel announces stand-down in tension with Syria

Last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon has provoked year-long speculation about a repeat performance this year. Some commentators have recently said that summer lasts a few more months here than in other places of the world, so, they said, the danger still persists.

Today, Israel announced that it is moving its troops — at least, it is rotating them — out of the Golan Heights that it seized from Syria in the aftermath of the June 1967 war. [In 1980, in an apparent fit of pique, Israel announced that it had “annexed” the Golan Heights, and it offered Israeli citizenship to its residents — not all of whom accepted the offer.]

The AP reported that “The decision by Israel’s military followed months of growing tensions along the frontier and concerns that the escalation could result in war. Over the summer, media reports of impending war alternated with announcements by Syrian and Israeli leaders that they had no interest in hostilities. The Israeli officials said Syria’s military has now reduced its war readiness, but offered no details because the exact steps taken by the Syrians are classified. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information to the press. Israeli forces scheduled to hold maneuvers on the Golan Heights would now be moved away from the border to the country’s south to further reduce friction, the officials said, and the army’s war-readiness status on the Israel-Syria border is now considered over … Syria demands that Israel return the heights in return for peace, but negotiations between the sides last broke down in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal.”
Read the full AP report here.

Haaretz is reporting that “The IDF had previously increased its training exercises in the Golan Heights since the end of the Second Lebanon War last summer.”
Read the Haaretz story here.

Continue reading Israel announces stand-down in tension with Syria

Chalk up one more success for UN Peacekeeping

The British newspaper The Guardian has this article published today: “Suspicion of UN troops grows in south Lebanon”, by Clancy Chassay in Maroun al-Ras —
“Six months after a UN-brokered ceasefire ended Israel’s war with Hizbullah, scepticism about the role of 10,000 UN troops is growing in south Lebanon amid signs that the militant Shia group is retraining and re-equipping its forces. The international force, deployed to keep the peace and support the expansion of the Lebanese army’s authority over the previously Hizbullah-controlled south, is perceived by villagers to be favouring Israel. ‘They are not our guests any more’, said Hajj Ali, a revered Hizbullah fighter from the large southern town of Bint Jbeil, who limps from an injury sustained during the summer war. ‘If they continue to help the Israelis we will have to take action against them’. Many in the south suspect Israel is trying to create a buffer zone along the border on Lebanese land allegedly captured during the war and that the UN is assisting it, furthering the popular perception that the UN forces, UNIFIL, are in south Lebanon to protect Israel from Hizbullah. Hizbullah, Lebanon’s largest political party, is still part of the social fabric and continues military activities along the border … In the bomb-shattered village of Maroun al-Ras, overlooking the Lebanon Israeli border, 65-year-old farmer Mohammed Allawi was repairing damage to his house from Israeli shelling. He said many farmers were no longer able to tend their fields for fear of being shot by Israeli troops. ‘UNIFIL has not lifted a hand against Israel but only intervenes to protect the Israelis, why are they on our land and why have they brought so many tanks?’ Hussein, a relative from Bint Jbeil, said the French were particularly unpopular. Hostility towards Lebanon’s former colonial power can be found across the south. ‘Why are the French so aggressive?’ asked Mr Allawi’s wife, Fatmeh, ‘They come through the village at night in their big, noisy tanks, scaring the children. They never talk to us and we don’t know what they are doing’. Nevertheless, UNIFIL provides jobs and social services and plays a vital role in disposing of unexploded munitions … Hizbullah still dominates the south, its security men policing the Shia villages and its fighters patrolling the border, albeit with greater stealth than before. A senior UNIFIL official said operational bunkers had been found and that Hizbullah fighters had been seen on patrols. As the UN destroys Hizbullah’s military infrastructure, the threat of confrontation grows. The official, speaking off the record, said some areas controlled by the Lebanese army were off limits to the UN. Hajj Ali said they were Hizbullah military zones protected under a deal between Hizbullah and the Lebanese army.”,,2019497,00.html

UN says both Israel and Lebanon violated cease-fire last week

ALVARO DE SOTO, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in an open meeting of the UN Security Council at UNHQ/NY today that, on 7 February, both Israel and Lebanon had violated a cease-fire that had held since August: “The Israel Defense Forces had signalled to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that it intended to cross the Israeli technical fence to clear a number of mines that it claimed to have identified north of the fence on Israeli territory. UNIFIL urged the IDF to suspend its action and to resolve the matter through UNIFIL’s liaison channels and through an urgent tripartite meeting, so as to avoid an increase in tension along the Blue Line. Despite those appeals, the Israel Defense Forces proceeded with the operation later that night. The Lebanese Army fired on the IDF after it made an opening in the technical fence, but while it was still on the Israeli side of the Blue Line. The IDF responded with at least one missile. No casualties were reported. Subsequently, an IDF bulldozer and excavator carried out earthworks to clear the area of mines and violated the Blue Line in the process. Two days earlier, and at the same location, the IDF had shot at and destroyed four improvised explosive devices on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line. The firing by the Lebanese Army constituted a violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and a breach of the cessation of hostilities agreement. The IDF also violated resolution 1701 by crossing the Blue Line, and the exchange of fire posed a threat to the lives of UNIFIL troops patrolling in the area.”

It may be the only time that the Lebanese Army has ever opened fire on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), who have been in and out of Lebanon since 1978. An extended occupation of southern Lebanon was ended unilaterally by Lebanon only in May 2000. In the middle of July last year, the IDF re-invaded Lebanon to take on Hizbollah forces, who shot a large number of missiles over northern Israel, and hit an Israeli boat off the Lebanese coast.

Since then, the UN Peacekeeping force UNIFIL has been given an expanded mandate to help the Lebanese Army operate all the way through the south of Lebanon. UNIFIL is also supposed to interdict and confiscate any arms not authorized by the Lebanese Army.

In an article published today on Counterpunch, Israeli journalist Uri Avnery accuses Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of engaging in several recent provocative acts, including along the border with Lebanon:
“PROVOCATION NO. 1: The northern frontier.
Along the northern border runs a fence. But not everywhere does the fence coincide exactly with the recognized border (the so-called Blue Line). For topographical reasons, some sections of the fence run a few dozen meters south of it. That is the theory of the situation. In the course of the years, both sides have become accustomed to regarding the fence as the actual border. On the Lebanese side, the villagers farm the fields up to the fence, fields which may well be their property. Now Ehud Olmert has decided to exploit this situation and reveal himself as a great, invincible warrior. Some explosives recently found a few yards from the Blue Line serve as a pretext. The Israeli army claims that they were put there just days ago by Hizbullah fighters disguised as goatherds. According to Hizbullah, they are old bombs that have been there since before the recent war. Olmert sent soldiers beyond the fence to carry out a ‘Hissuf’ (‘exposure’) – one of those new Hebrew words invented by the army’s ‘verbal laundry’ to beautify ugly things. It means the wholesale uprooting of trees, in order to improve vision and facilitate shooting. The army used the trademark weapon of the State of Israel: the armored bulldozer. The Lebanese army sent a warning that they would open fire. When this did not have any effect, they indeed fired several salvoes over the heads of the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army responded by firing several tank shells at the Lebanese position and lo – we have our ‘incident’. The whole affair is very reminiscent of Ariel Sharon’s methods in the 60s, when he was the chief of operations of the Northern Command. Sharon became quite an expert at provoking the Syrian army in the demilitarized zones that existed on the border between the two countries at the time. Israel claimed sovereignty over these areas, while the Syrians asserted that it was a neutral zone that did not belong to either state and in which the Arab farmers, who owned the land, were allowed to tend their fields. According to legend, the Syrians exploited their control of heights overlooking the Israeli villages in the valley below them. Again and again the evil Syrians (the Syrians were always “evil”) terrorized the helpless kibbutzim by shelling. This myth, which was believed by practically all Israelis at the time, served as a justification for the occupation of the Golan Heights and their annexation by Israel. Even now, foreign visitors are brought to an observation post on the Golan Heights and shown the defenseless Kibbutzim down below. The truth, which has been exposed since then, was a bit different: Sharon used to instruct the Kibbutzniks to go to their shelters, and then send an armored tractor into the demilitarized zone. Predictably, the Syrians shot at it. The Israeli artillery, just waiting for its cue, then opened up a massive bombardment of the Syrian positions. There were dozens of such ‘incidents’. Now the same method is being practiced by Sharon’s successor. Soldiers and bulldozers enter the area, the Lebanese shoot, the Israeli tanks shell them. Does this provocation make any political sense? The Lebanese army answers to Fuad Siniora, the darling of the United States and the opponent of Hizbullah. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, this army was deployed along the border, at the express demand of the Israeli government, and this was proclaimed by Olmert as a huge Israeli achievement. (Until then, the Israeli army commanders had adamantly opposed the idea of stationing Lebanese or international troops in this area, on the grounds that this would hamper their freedom of action.) So what is the aim of this provocation? The same as with all Olmert’s recent actions: gaining popularity to survive in power, in this case by creating tension … Forty years of occupation have created an occupation mentality that destroys all desire and all ability to solve problems by mutual understanding, dialogue and compromise. Both in foreign and domestic relations, Mafia methods reign: violence, sudden blows, targeted eliminations.  When these methods are applied by a politician haunted by corruption affairs, an uninhibited war-monger who is fighting for survival by all means available – this is indeed a very dangerous situation.”

UN taking stiff position on IDF bulldozer crossing technical fence in southern Lebanon

The UN said today, about Wednesday night’s shooting on the southen border of Lebanon, that “The exchange of fire, which was initiated by the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] after an IDF [Israeli Defence Forces]bulldozer crossed the technical fence in an apparent attempt to clear the area between the technical fence and the Blue Line of mines, constitutes a breach of the cessation of hostilities as laid out in Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)…UNIFIL is currently ascertaining all the facts concerning the incident…UNIFIL troops, in coordination with the Lebanese army, have also placed a sign to visibly mark the Blue Line in this area. The Force Commander, Maj. Gen Graziano, has been in contact with the parties and has called for a tripartite meeting with the senior representatives of the Lebanese Army and the Israel Defence Force early next week…”

The previous night’s shooting may have been the first time the Lebanese Army ever actually fired upon Israeli forces.

The Security Council also issued a statement saying: “The members of the Council expressed deep concern about this incident. They look forward to the ascertaining of all the facts by UNIFIL and to the forthcoming tripartite meeting asked for by UNIFIL Force Commander. The members of the Council appealed to all parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety, to exercise utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation.”

Qatar's Peacekeepers arrive in Lebanon – while Lebanese leave

A full contingent of 184 Qatari troops is now deployed with the UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

As the UNIFIL press release says, the Qatari forces will be “assisting the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as part of Security Council resolution 1701”.

With the arrival of the Qataris, UNIFIL now has a force strenth of 12,000 soldiers and other personnel from 28 different countries (Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey).

Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL has started a “major Spanish language training programme”, offering language lessons to some 300 students in and around the town of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. “The programme is sponsored by the Spanish authorities and is being run under the auspices of the Cervantes Institute”, the UNIFIL press release notes.

This could be useful for those Lebanese who want to emigrate — and a new study suggests that there are many of them, according to a report published today and posted on Yahoo news: “The scale of the hemorrhage is hard to pin down, especially in a land with a long, fluid history of migration and return, but researcher Eugen Dabbous said a survey he had helped to run had confirmed many Lebanese are heading for the exits. ‘Sixty percent of those surveyed want to leave,’ he said.
The project, conducted by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, questioned about 600 residents from two groups — students or recent graduates and middle-aged people. ‘The younger people want to leave because they don’t see a future in Lebanon, and the older group because they want to get their children out of harm’s way,’ Dabbous said. He said up to a million of Lebanon’s estimated four million citizens already live abroad, mingling with a far bigger Lebanese-origin diaspora born of two centuries of migration. Once mostly Christian, the outflow now affects Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities just as much. Many who left during the 1975-90 civil war sank permanent roots abroad … So many Lebanese have left for the Gulf in recent months that wages there have declined, said Carole Contavelis, a recruitment consultant for Beirut’s Headhunter International. Of 19 people she interviewed for a general manager post in Beirut, 15 had left the country: ‘At the upper management level, it’s 70-80 percent who are out of Lebanon.’ Contavelis said the employment market had been ‘awful’ since last year’s war and was still getting worse, while political instability meant no one could plan their lives sensibly. ‘Now with the brain drain, we don’t have a middle class any more,’ she complained. ‘How can you build a country like that?’ Asked what would have to change to induce people to stay, she said: ‘Frankly, everything. No bribery. We need security, clean politicians. They are treating us like cows, but we don’t want to follow any more’…”

In other news reported by UNIFIL, “two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl”.

The U.S. has said last week that Israel may have violated their agreement about the use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, during last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

One report suggests that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) apparently used the older U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are not equipped with auto-destruct mechanisms, rather than the newer Israeli-produced cluster bombs which can self-destruct in a short period of time after being used. This auto-destruct mechanism is considered to be an important humanitarian advance, which helps avoid casualties when civilians return to their homes and fields after a conflict is over.

Earlier reports, during the summer, suggested that the IDF was emptying its warehouses of old stock during the attack on Lebanon.

UN and international de-mining teams have identified oer 800 zones in Lebanon where unexploded cluster bomb fragments continue to pose a grave hazard to life and limb.

The UNIFIL press release reports that “UNIFIL de-miners destroyed more than 4,000 explosive devices during the first four weeks of
January 2007. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.”

The UNIFIL website — not so easy to find — is at

In other UN Peacekeeping news, the UN Security Council has given a rap on the knuckles to Ethiopia and Eritrea, by ordering a reduction of 500 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMEE). Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after a long and hard-fought conflict. Tensions still remain, however, and sometimes flare up, between the two neighbors. The UN Security Council expressed disappointment in the stalled process to demarcate the boundary between the two feuding Horn of Africa neighbors.

Ethiopia does not accept an international boundary commission’s ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. And Eritrea has moved troops and equipment into a buffer zone between the two countries.
The UN Peacekeeping mission will be reduced from 2300 to 1700 persons, but its mandate has been extended for a six-month period.

Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have not withdrawn from Somalia, which they entered with U.S. training and backing in support of the UN Security-Council-backed Transitional Government. (Ethiopia has said that Eritrean forces were associated with the Islamic Courts grouping that had been credited with bringing a semblance of law and order to what is known as a “failed state” — but which has now been ousted.)

Troops from Qatar set to join UNIFIL in Lebanon

The UN Spokesman told journalists on Wednesday that “The UN Interim Force for Lebanon says that an advance party for an infantry unit from Qatar has joined the Force ahead of a full deployment of Qatari peacekeepers. “

UNIFIL nears full "reinforced" strength

The UN Spokesman has just reported that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has surpassed the 11,000 mark with the full deployment of an infantry battalion from Indonesia and an engineering unit from Portugal.

UN SG Kofi Annan reported recently to the UN Security Council that, once UNIFIL reaches a force strength of 11,500, UNIFIL will be in a position to fulfil its “reinforced” mandate, post-Israel-attack-on-Lebanon in July-August 2006.  The current total, more than 11,000 from 23 countries, is made up of more than 9,000 ground troops and more than 1,700 naval personnel, the UN Spokesman told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Friday.

And, the UN Spokesman said on Friday, UNIFIL peacekeepers continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, with 552 instances where UNIFIL peacekeepers provided medical assistance over the past week. Meanwhile, in the last week, UNIFIL de-miners from various national contingents destroyed a total of 1,305 separate explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs.

Asked by journalists about the reimbursement of costs for the maritime deployment, the Spokesman said that the United Nations was still trying to work out financial arrangements with the Member States.

The interesting if not-always-accurate Israeli online beyond-the-news site, Debka File, reported with some displeasure on the day the Israeli Defense Force mostly-withdrew from Lebanon on 1 October, that “Only one third of the 15,000 international peacekeepers the UN Security Council pledged for an expanded UNIFIL has in fact been deployed in South Lebanon…While withdrawing the bulk of its force gradually, Israel kept the last units behind in a futile effort to persuade UNIFIL commanders to uphold key provisions of the resolution. They refused even the minimal demand to restrict Hizballah’s military movements along the Israeli border.  They claimed they could only act with the permission of the Lebanese government.  By finally giving way on this point, the Israeli government accepted the determination that UNIFIL is the instrument of the Lebanese government – not the enforcer of UN resolutions or Israeli security. This concession makes nonsense of the claim that the most important gain of the Lebanon operation was the removal of Hizballah’s fighting forces from access to the Israeli border.”

Since, then, according to the UNSG’s report (see previous posts) has gone some way to alleviating Israel’s concerns — and has even opened UNIFIL offices in the Tel Aviv Kirya, near the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and at the IDF northern command HQ.

The Debkafile story continued: “Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah used the war to forge alliances with the Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, head of the rival Shiite movement Amal, and the Christian Maronite strongman Michel Aoun. This bloc intends to make a bid to install a pro-Syrian government after Ramadan is over next month.  Our sources in Beirut report a last-minute US-French initiative to frustrate this development.  Siniora had his interior minister Ahmed Fatfat posted decree No. 2403 for Lebanon’s five intelligence and security agencies to pool their intelligence data and so provide his government and national army with the means of asserting control over national security.  Two pro-Syrian officers, General Security chief Wafic Jezzini, and Director-General of Internal Security forces, Maj.-Gen Ashraf Rifi, stamped hard on this decree. The Siniora government was thus denied a key resource for dominating the country at large, not just the South, and is more vulnerable than ever to a hostile push.  As for Israel’s policy-makers, their handling of the bargaining with UNIFIL was as muddled, vacillating and feeble as their conduct of the Lebanon war itself.  By accepting the Aug. 14 truce, they agreed to handing over the Lebanese-Israeli border to an international peacekeeping force without teeth; its rules of engagement are so constrictive that without Lebanese government authorization its members may not fire a single shot – even when necessary to prevent Hizballah moving back to its former aggressive positions or smuggling in fresh supplies of weapons”.

An earlier Debka File story described UNIFIL’s rules of engagement: “The force’s commanders have sufficient authority to act forcefully when confronted with hostile activity of any kind. UNIFIL personnel may exercise the inherent right of self-defense, as well as ‘the use of force beyond self-defense to ensure that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities.’  The peacekeepers also may use force ‘to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, to protect U.N. personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers.’Â Also the use of force may be applied ‘to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in its areas of deployment, within its capabilities’.”  DEBKAfile notes that all these locutions are open to broad interpretation. For instance, ‘hostile activity’ could apply to an attack from outer space … The ‘arms embargo’ ordered by Resolution 1701 is another unmentionable.  The ‘civilians’ to be protected are likewise undefined. UNIFIL’s commander has full discretion to decide whether or not it is applicable to a Hizballlah rocket attack on Nahariya … By their silence and passivity, Israeli leaders hope to hide the true outcome of that bungled campaign from Israeli and world opinion.  Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who proudly held up the UN force’s deployment as the war’s only success and the formula for Israel’s successful exit strategy, has been strangely struck dumb”.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in today’s NY Times (seen in link from Angry Arab), and here are some excerpts of the better parts: “ONCE more, Lebanon is in political crisis. This time, we are told, it pits ‘Syrian- and Iranian-backed’ Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) and the Christian faction led by Michel Aoun against the ‘Western-backed’ Christian, Sunni and Druze groups that support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.  These very descriptions — citing one external backer or another as a mark of political identification —  illustrate the fundamental problem Lebanon must overcome.  Call it the Lebanese Disease: rather than sorting out their differences internally and addressing the fundamental injustices at the heart of their disputes, the Lebanese constantly look to outsiders to gain an advantage over their rivals.  Naturally, any advantages thus gained are short-lived, for both the Lebanese and their foreign backers.  In the end, the only result is greater popular suffering and instability in Lebanon and the entire Middle East.
… Only the Lebanese can cure themselves of this disease, but a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of the ‘Western backers’ — primarily the United States and France — would greatly help.

“Let’s dial back half a year, to the start of this latest crisis.  The immediate reaction of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to the cross-border attack by Hezbollah on Israeli troops was his most honest. This was not, he said, an act of terrorism — it was an act of war.  And, issues of proportionality aside, it was quite justifiable to hold the Lebanese government to account.   The honesty of that initial reaction, however, was quickly replaced by the old formula to which Israel has resorted since 1978.  Israel did not intend to attack Lebanon, its spokesmen insisted, but was just trying to help the Lebanese by attacking Iran-controlled Hezbollah.  This was a polite way of saying to Mr. Siniora: We’re going to rid ourselves — and you — of Hezbollah, for which you should be grateful, and you’d better make sure they don’t rise again.

“Now let’s try to view this from the perspective of a Lebanese nationalist. To acquiesce to the American-Israeli formula for Lebanon would be to accept that one’s nation should be entirely supine before a neighbor; that any time the Israelis decided to react to a limited provocation or threat, the only defense one could mount would be the tearful pleas of a powerless prime minister.  Thus it should not be surprising that many Lebanese, including Mr. Siniora, at least temporarily put aside their factional mistrust and embraced Hezbollah as the sole available means of national resistance. This, along with Hezbollah’s surprisingly successful resistance, has permanently changed the political calculus of the nation … its involvement in Lebanese politics since the summer has already brought discernible changes in Hezbollah’s attitudes and behavior. Its leaders understand that if they want to influence the policies of the state, they will have to accommodate the interests of other religious groups and political factions.

“…Tacitly encouraging civil war is seldom wise, and particularly when the side with which one is affiliated cannot win.  It should be obvious that American — and Israeli — interests are best served by a unified Lebanese state that has clear control over its people and its territory.  We now know that Hezbollah is not going to be eradicated, nor its influence reduced.  So the only way of making the Lebanese government accountable is to encourage the progressive, moderating integration of Hezbollah into the political, social and military fabric of the state.

“…we should give up talk of greatly enlarging the multinational force in southern Lebanon, and convince the Europeans to do likewise. Fortunately, the plan to insert such a force this fall foundered when the French (wisely) decided they were not up to the task of disarming Hezbollah, although smaller numbers of European troops are apparently headed there soon. It is folly, particularly with lightly armed foreign forces, to try to get regional actors to do things that they see as fundamentally against their interests.

“Second is to end the proxy battles between foreign powers. I don’t know what the Americans are telling the Lebanese government privately, but the public statements are disappointing. Last month the White House issued an official statement citing ‘attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence’ and insisting the United States would ‘continue its efforts with allied nations and democratic forces in Lebanon to resist these efforts.’ In other words, we’re still trying to rile Lebanese sentiment as a wedge against our enemies in the region … Washington will never achieve its objectives in the Middle East — including its obligation to ensure Israel’s long-term security — unless it puts emotions aside and deals realistically with facts on the ground.  Like it or not, Hezbollah is one of those facts. A less-than-pliable but strong government in Lebanon would be far preferable to no real government at all, which is what we have now.”

Robert Grenier, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterintelligence center, is a security consultant.

SG's letter to the Security Council on Lebanon

Here are some excerpts from the SG’s Report S/2006/933, Letter dated 1 December 2006 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council:

“I have the honour to submit a factual update to my report of 12 September 2006 on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)(S/2006/780), in particular on the operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and other relevant United Nations activities.

Israel continued to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon, in coordination with UNIFIL. The IDF retain a presence only in the northern part of the village of Ghajar. Given the specific status of the village of Ghajar, which is divided by the Blue Line, UNIFIL is working with the LAF and the IDF to finalize the withdrawal of the IDF from the remaining area inside Lebanon and set up temporary security arrangements for the part of the village of Ghajar inside Lebanese territory.

In parallel with the withdrawal of Israeli forces, Lebanon deployed, in coordination with UNIFIL, four brigades of its armed forces throughout the south in the areas vacated by the IDF, including along the Blue Line. The deployment of the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] throughout the south for the first time in decades down to the Blue Line is a most notable achievement and a key stabilizing factor. The LAF, assisted by UNIFIL, have taken some specific steps to ensure that the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line is free of armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and those of UNIFIL. Specifically, the LAF have established a considerable number of permanent positions and checkpoints and commenced patrols.

UNIFIL and the LAF have seen sporadic evidence of the presence of unauthorized armed personnel, assets and/or weapons. On one occasion, a UNIFIL demining team was challenged by two Hizbollah personnel in combat uniform carrying AK47 rifles. UNIFIL notified the LAF, who arrested three suspects the following day. Since early September, there have been 13 instances where UNIFIL came across unauthorized arms or related materiel in its area of operation. The two most noteworthy were the discovery of 17 Katyushas and several improvised explosive devices in Rachaya El-Foukhar and, in the general area of Bourhoz, of a weapons cache consisting of seven missiles, three rocket launchers and substantial amounts of ammunition. On all of these occasions, UNIFIL informed the LAF, who took prompt action either to confiscate or destroy the materials.

In the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line, there are, in addition, Palestinian armed elements largely confined to the refugee camps.

The Interim Maritime Task Force, under the lead of the Italian Navy, operated in support of the Lebanese Navy to secure Lebanese territorial waters until 15 October, when the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force became operational. The latter has questioned and confirmed the identity of some 950 ships, detecting one suspicious boat, which, when searched, was found to be smuggling cigarettes, and rendering assistance to one vessel in distress.

The Lebanese authorities reported that they had undertaken a variety of measures to secure their borders and entry points in order to prevent the illegal entry into Lebanon of arms and related materiel. However, the United Nations continues to receive reports of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, but has not been able to verify such reports.

The second phase of the augmentation of UNIFIL is now under way, and involves the further deployment of four mechanized infantry battalions from France, Indonesia, Italy and Nepal and one infantry unit each from Malaysia and Qatar. The French composite battalion is assuming the role of quick reaction force. Finland, Ireland and Turkey have deployed engineer units and another is expected from Portugal. China will deploy one level-2 hospital, in addition to its existing engineering company. The Dominican Republic and the United Republic of Tanzania are expected to deploy military police companies.

As at 28 November, UNIFIL troop strength was 10,480 all ranks. The completion of the augmentation is expected in December, when UNIFIL force strength will reach approximately 11,500 ground troops, 1,750 naval personnel and 51 military observers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. With the deployment by the LAF of four brigades to south Lebanon, these numbers are deemed to be sufficient to execute the mandate.

The regular UNIFIL supply chain was recently re-established, thus enabling the Force to discontinue the air/sea bridge between Cyprus and Lebanon, which had been in place to maintain UNIFIL operability during the IDF naval and air blockade.

Two sector headquarters, West and East, have been established in Tibnin and Marjayoun, respectively… In addition, a quick reaction force will be based in Frun. UNIFIL air assets, provided and operated by Italy, are based at the Force headquarters. The UNIFIL Maritime Task Force is operating in Lebanese territorial waters.

A UNIFIL office for coordination and joint planning with the LAF, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant Lebanese authorities is being set up in Beirut.

Another UNIFIL office will be established in Tel Aviv for liaison and coordination with IDF headquarters, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant Israeli authorities. A UNIFIL liaison office, based in the IDF Northern Command, is fully operational. The Office of Political Affairs, comprising also civil affairs and public information, is being augmented within the Force headquarters and will staff the liaison offices and also deploy at the sector level.

The Strategic Military Cell for UNIFIL has been established at United Nations Headquarters and is operational.

I continue to make the unconditional release of the captured Israeli soldiers and the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel a top priority. The facilitator appointed by me specifically to address these vital issues is currently engaged in an intensive effort with all parties to reach a resolution.

Since my last report, the full scope of contamination from unexploded cluster munitions has come to light…

Israel has yet to provide UNIFIL with the detailed firing data on its use of cluster munitions that I referred to in my previous report. The provision of this data, which would be in keeping with the spirit of Protocol V of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, which came into force recently, would significantly assist operators on the ground to mitigate the threat to innocent civilians. I reiterate my expectation for the provision of these data.

I would note that Israel confirmed in a letter dated 14 November 2006 from its Charge d’Affaires that it had handed over to the United Nations all pre-2000 minefield records available for southern Lebanon and the area north of the Litani River.

However, I regret to inform you that four deminers working for the United Nations mine clearance programme in south Lebanon have been injured over the past few days, after they stepped on Israeli-manufactured anti-personnel mines near the village of Deir Mimas. As this area was considered safe prior to the conflict, there is the possibility that new anti-personnel landmines were laid during the recent conflict. While investigations on those incidents are still ongoing, I want to reiterate that the United Nations condemns the use of all anti-personnel mines and calls upon any party that laid such mines during the recent conflict to provide information as to where they have been laid to prevent similar tragic incidents occurring in the future.

Further to the Council’s request to me in paragraph 10 of its resolution 1701 (2006) to develop proposals for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border was disputed or uncertain,including by dealing with the Shabaa Farms area, I have appointed a senior cartographer to assume the lead on reviewing relevant material and developing an accurate territorial definition of the Shabaa Farms area. The cartographer is in the process of conducting such an exercise for the purpose of any further diplomatic activity that could be carried out by the United Nations as regards this issue.

I am heartened to note that both Lebanon and Israel have indicated their readiness to cooperate in this exercise.

A permanent solution of this issue remains contingent upon the delineation of the border between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, in fulfilment of resolutions 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006). At the same time, and in view of the repeated Syrian statements indicating that the Shabaa Farms area is Lebanese, I continue to take careful note of the alternative path suggested by the Government of Lebanon in its seven-point plan, namely, placing the Shabaa Farms under United Nations jurisdiction until permanent border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them is settled. The United Nations looks forward to reporting further on this matter in early 2007.

UNIFIL PRESS RELEASES – Does Garrison Keillor write these?

All the meetings went very well (above average), progress is being made, and remaining issues are minor and technical …

And Gadjar becomes Ghajar

From UNIFIL’s website: “Originally, UNIFIL was created by the Security Council in 1978 to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area. Following the July/August 2006 crisis, the Council enhanced the Force and decided that in addition to the original mandate, it would, among other things, monitor the cessation of hostilities; accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the south of Lebanon; and extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons”.

Naqoura, Lebanon (11 December 2006) — The Force Commander for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alain Pellegrini, today met senior representatives of the Lebanese Army and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the UNIFIL position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.  They discussed the issue of the withdrawal of the IDF from the northern part of Ghajar village, which is located inside Lebanese territory.   Major-General Pellegrini described the meeting as constructive and productive.  ‘Progress has been made on this issue, and I hope that this will help pave the way for the full withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanese territory’, Major-General Pellegrini said.

29 November 2006:  The strength of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has continued to rise with the deployment of additional troops from Indonesia, Portugal and Italy.  The current total is around 10,500 troops from 21 countries, comprising of 8,800 ground troops and 1,700 naval personnel.  UNIFIL peacekeepers continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, including medical, dental and veterinarian aid. In the last seven days there were 361 instances where UNIFIL peacekeepers provided medical assistance, 56 instances of dental care, and 749 occasions on which veterinary services were provided.  In the time period involved, UNIFIL de-miners from various national contingents destroyed over 300 separate explosive devices. These included rockets, grenades, and cluster bombs.

[These two items are not on the UNIFIL Press Release page, but rather on the UN News Centre page:]

20 November 2006 — The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has discovered a cache of unauthorized missiles, rocket launches and “significant” amounts of ammunition in its field of operation, the seventh incident of its type since early September.  In a statement issued by UNIFIL’s military spokesman on Saturday, the Mission said the Lebanese army was informed of a finding on Friday near the town of Bourhoz and then took action to either confiscate or destroy the seven missiles, three rocket launchers and ammunition.  The statement added that the biggest finding remains an earlier discovery near Rachaiya El-Foukhar, when peacekeepers located 17 Katyusha rockets and some improvised explosive devices (IEDs).   UNIFIL and the Lebanese army have not encountered any armed personnel from Hizbollah in its field of operation in southern Lebanon, according to the statement, and no hostile action from such forces has been detected.   Resolution 1701, approved by the Security Council in August, calls on the Lebanese armed forces, assisted by UNIFIL, to ensure that the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line with Israel is free of any unauthorized armed personnel, assets or weapons…(The Israeli Newspaper Haaretz reported that UNIFIL was acting on intelligence information provided by Israel.)

17 November 2006: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today protested the 14 Israeli air violations it observed, including two by F-15 jets flying at low altitude, and called for their immediate halt.  Eleven of the incidents occurred in the area of operations of the French battalion. A UN spokesman reported that the anti-aircraft unit of the French battalion took initial preparatory steps to respond to the Israeli actions, in accordance with UNIFIL rules of engagement and UN Security Council resolution 1701. That text ended the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbollah and expanded the size and scope of the Force.   Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the UNIFIL Force Commander, strongly protested to the Israeli authorities and asked them to cease these actions, which are unacceptable and in violation of resolution 1701, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. Asked about France’s response to the overflights, he said that thankfully, nothing happened and no one was hurt. However, he added, the incident served as a reminder, at a tense moment in Lebanon, of why such overflights must cease: because of the chance that events could spin out of control.]

11 November 2006: UNIFIL strength has reached a total of around 9700 troops from 21 different countries after 129 troops of the Indonesian Battalion have arrived in Lebanon on 10 November 2006.  Around 8,000 troops are deployed on the ground between the Litani River and the Blue Line, plus the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force with 1,700 naval personnel. On the humanitarian side, from 3 to 10 November 2006, approximately 703 civilians received medical and dental treatment by French, Indian, Italian and Spanish battalions in the entire area of operations. The veterinarian from Indbatt (Indian Battallion) treated 567 animals for various ailments.   UNIFIL Engineers conducted 58 controlled demolition of unexploded ordnance in the
area of operation.

09 November2006:  Lebanese Army starts deployment in the areas vacated by the IDF
Following the withdrawal of the IDF on 7 November from most of the surrounding area of the Ghajar village, UNIFIL carried out intensive patrolling and set up temporary checkpoints in the specified area to confirm that the IDF were no longer present. After verification of full withdrawal by UNIFIL the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forced] began to deploy their troops on the ground in this area at 9am today.  The IDF remain present in the northern part of the village of Ghajar, inside Lebanese territory, and in the immediate vicinity of the village.

07 November 2006: IDF withdraws from most of the surrounding area of Ghajar village
UNIFIL Force Commander Major Gen Alain Pellegrini met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the UN Position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.  It was agreed that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will withdraw their forces from most of the surrounding area of Ghajar village today. UNIFIL will carry out intensive patrolling and set up temporary checkpoints in the specified area to confirm that the IDF were no longer present there.  (The IDF is still present inside the northern part of the village of Ghajar and the immediate vicinity, inside Lebanese territory.)  UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alain Pellegrini said: ‘I welcome the IDF withdrawal from the area around Ghajar. I hope that we will reach an agreement very soon for full IDF withdrawal from Lebanese territory, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, including the northern part of Ghajar village’.

26 October 2006: UNIFIL, LAF and IDF discuss the situation around Ghajar
UNIFIL Deputy Force Commander Brig.-General Jai Prakash Nehra met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The situation around Ghajar was discussed with a view to ensuring a speedy withdrawal of IDF from the area.  The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the IDF withdrawal, said Brig.-Gen. Nehra. Minor administrative issues with relation to Ghajar residents are still pending, and UNIFIL hopes they will be solved at the next meeting early next week.

17 October 2006:  UNIFIL, LAF and IDF discuss security arrangements for Gadjar
On 17 October, the UNIFIL Acting Force Commander Brig.-General J.P. Nehra met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  The situation around Gadjar and future security arrangements for the area were discussed.  The meeting went very well, I think we have more or less closed all the gaps except for a few minor technical issues that should be finalized very soon and then I expect the IDF to complete their withdrawal from South Lebanon, said Brig.-General J.P. Nehra.

9 October 2006: UNIFIL, LAF and IDF discuss the situation around Gadjar
UNIFIL Acting Force Commander Brig.-General J.P. Nehra met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The situation around Gadjar was discussed with a view of ensuring a speedy withdrawal of IDF from the area.   ‘The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize the IDF withdrawal’, said Brig.-General J.P. Nehra.  During the meeting, the IDF provided UNIFIL the maps of minefields in South Lebanon as of June 2000 after their withdrawal. UNIFIL handed over these maps to the UN Mine Action Coordination Center and to the LAF for review.

3 October 2006: UNIFIL is steadily enhancing its operational capabilities in order to fulfill its responsibilities under Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). More than 3,000 additional  troops, for a current total of around 5,200, plus an Interim Maritime TaskForce, have been deployed so far. UNIFIL personnel are patrolling the area of operations, monitoring the cessation of the hostilities, and assisting the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which have already deployed five brigades in the south.  Yesterday, UNIFIL confirmed the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to south of the Blue Line, except in the area around Ghajar, and ensured a seamless and smooth takeover by the LAF.  Should the situation present any risk of resumption of hostile activities, UNIFIL rules of engagement allow UN forces to respond as required.  UNIFIL commanders have sufficient authority to act forcefully when confronted with hostile activity of any kind.  UNIFIL has set up temporary checkpoints at key locations within its area of operations.   Permanent checkpoints are being established by the LAF to stop and search passing vehicles.  In case specific information is available regarding movement of unauthorized
weapons or equipment, the LAF will take required action.  However, in situations where the LAF are not in a position to do so, UNIFIL will do everything necessary to fulfill its mandate in accordance with Security Council resolution 1701.  In implementing their mandate, all UNIFIL personnel may exercise the inherent right of self-defense.  In addition, the use of force beyond self-defense may be applied to ensure that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities; to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council; to protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment; to ensure the security and freedom of movement of UN personnel and humanitarian
workers; and to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in its areas of deployment, within its capabilities.

1 October 2006: The IDF withdraws from the South, except Ghajar. ‘UNIFIL is here to help to ensure the territorial integrity of Lebanon’, says Maj.-General Pellegrini.  ‘ The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have withdrawn their troops from South Lebanon today, except from the general area of Ghajar north of the Blue Line which is still under IDF control. UNIFIL is in the process of confirming that there are no IDF troops present in the areas declared as vacated. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are to begin their deployment in these areas tomorrow morning. UNIFIL is also in close contact with the IDF to facilitate a speedy withdrawal from the area of Ghajar. Following a full IDF withdrawal from South Lebanon, UNIFIL in cooperation with LAF will inspect the entire length of the Blue Line to ensure that there are no violations of the
said Line.  Significant progress has been achieved today.  The IDF have withdrawn their troops from the South, except from the area around the village of Ghajar.  I expect that they will leave this area in the course of the week thus completing the withdrawal in line with the Resolution 1701. The LAF are now in a position to take control and to deploy in these areas including along the Blue Line,’ said UNIFIL Force Commander Maj.-General Alain Pellegrini.   The LAF can now provide security and stability for the people of the South who have already suffered a great deal. UNIFIL is here to assist, and to help to ensure the territorial integrity of Lebanon’.

Haaretz reports one Lebanese killed, another injured, by unexploded cluster bomb near Nabatiyeh

Haaretz newspaper is running an AP (Associated Press news agency) report from Beirut that one 41-year-old worker was killed instantly, and his 21-year-old nephew was badly wounded, earlier today while working at a construction site in the village of Kfar Tibnit, near Nabatiyeh, when an unexploded “cluster bomb from Israel’s war against Lebanon exploded in southern Lebanon”.

The report added that “It was not immediately clear what caused the bomb to explode – whether one man stepped on it or whether it was activated by the movement of some building materials”.

It said that “The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping as many as 4 million cluster bombs on Lebanon during the July-August war with the militant Hezbollah group. United Nations ordnance clearing experts have said that up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode and continue to threaten civilians. At least 25 people have died in cluster bomb explosions in Lebanon since the war ended in a UN-brokered cease-fire on August 14.”

The UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre for South Lebanon reports on its website, last updated on 28 November, that “There have been 23 reported fatalities and 145 reported injuries from all types of unexploded ordnance in Lebanon. Of these totals, children 18 years old or younger accounted for six of the fatalities and 55 of the injuries, according to MACC-SL. All the fatalities and most of the injuries resulted from cluster munitions.”

The UNMACC says that “Most cluster bomblets were delivered by rockets or artillery. A limited number appear to have been dropped by aircraft (BLU-63-type bombs). Official and complete statistics about the quantity of cluster bombs used are not available. However, an extrapolation based partly on likely failure or ‘dud’ rates of munitions and partly on media reports about the extent to which various types of cluster bombs were used indicates that up to 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets may be on the ground.”

It notes that “Unexploded cluster bomblets pose an immediate threat to returnees and humanitarian workers. They also pose a threat to the deployment of an enhanced UNIFIL peacekeeping force”

And, it says that “An estimated 12 to 15 months will be needed to clear the cluster bomblets from southern Lebanon.”

UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which has a reinforced mandate following last summer’s Israeli attack on Lebanon, reported on 11 October that: “Since the 14 August cessation of hostilities, the UNIFIL Chinese Battalion has surveyed over 140,000 sq. metres of areas suspected of having unexploded ordnances (UXOs) and cluster bomb units (CBUs) and destroyed over 3800 of these UXOs and CBUs.

“Additional de-mining activities are conducted by the French, Italian and Spanish battalions. Most of the CBUs disposed since 14 August are from the Al Hinniyah area where many civilians reside…

“The CBUs present a threat not only to civilians, but also to UNIFIL and Lebanese Army troops deployed in the South.

“UNIFIL de-mining experts are worried about the worsening weather during the winter months when the soil becomes softer because of the rain. The CBUs then might sink into the ground. ‘This will make the job more dangerous since it becomes difficult to detect and clear the suspected contaminated areas. UNIFIL de-mining teams and UXO disposal units are trying to remove as many as they can before the winter season,’ according to Alexander Ivanko, UNIFIL Spokesman.

“In his Report of 12 September 2006 on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, the UN Secretary-General said that ‘While IDF has provided some maps to UNIFIL regarding cluster strikes, they are not specific enough to be of use to operators on the ground. I expect that Israel will provide further detailed information to UNIFIL regarding the exact location, quantity and type of cluster munitions utilized during the conflict. In addition to cluster munitions, unexploded bombs, rockets, mortars and other ordnance also litter the south and areas in the north and east of Lebanon.’ ”

A UNIFIL press release dated 9 October, however, reported that:

“On 9 October, the UNIFIL Acting Force Commander Brig.-General J.P. Nehra met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

During the meeting, the IDF provided UNIFIL the maps of minefields in South Lebanon as of June 2000 after their withdrawal.

UNIFIL handed over these maps to the UN Mine Action Coordination Center and to the LAF for review.”