More on the recent Israeli-Lebanese firefight

lsraeli political and security analyst Shlomo Brom, [Brig-Gen {Res}], of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, INSS, has just written that: “Underlying this incident is the dispute between Israel and Lebanon over the demarcation of the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel, as well as Lebanon’s political reality. In its unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Israel withdrew to the Blue Line. This is not the international border agreed upon by Israel and Lebanon, although its route largely coincides with the 1923 international border. When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, it fulfilled Security Council Resolution 425 calling on Israel to return to the recognized border between Israel and Lebanon prior to Operation Litani in 1978. This border, which was demarcated in cooperation with the UN, is called the Blue Line. Part of the Blue Line demarcation is accepted by Israel and Lebanon and is marked jointly on the ground, but there are still points of contention between the sides regarding the unmarked sections and how to translate the Blue Line in those locations into territorial markers. There are also places where due to topography the Israeli border fence is not situated on the border itself but within Israeli territory, with small pieces of sovereign Israeli land remaining on the Lebanese side of the fence. [n.b – This analyst is expressing an Israeli view, of course, as he certainly acknowledges.] The Lebanese army has a tendency to view Israeli military activity beyond the fence as an infiltration into Lebanese territory, even if it occurs in these areas. In the August 3 incident, Israeli activity to clear vegetation took place in territory of this category, beyond the fence and in an area with no border marking. The Lebanese claimed after the incident that the route of the Blue Line at this particular point is under dispute“.

Meanwhile, there’s an interesting view on what UNIFIL did as the confrontation began, which I found thanks to a tip from our reader, who comments under the name of Yul. This report on Youtube, shows a couple of “blue-beret” UNIFIL peacekeepers [who later put on blue helmets], one waving a blue UN flag, while one shouts, alternatively, (1) to the IDF to “Stop, Stop doing anything” [the IDF was carrying out “routine-maintenance” tree and shrub-pruning operation on the other side of a fence], and then (2) “Lower your guns”, to the Lebanese Army troops, lying on their bellies with weapons pointed as this IDF “routine-maintenance” proceeds [with heavy military escort]:

Shlomo Brom writes, in his INSS insight analysis, that “The Lebanese government could certainly have protested with more moderation and complained to UNIFIL about what it deemed was an IDF violation, instead of opening fire. However it chose to demonstrate a forceful policy and to instruct Lebanese army units in southern Lebanon accordingly. To be sure, there is a question as to whether there was a specific directive from Beirut to open fire in this particular case, but it is clear that the firm policy from Beirut’s direction played a key role in decisions by the local Lebanese command”.

However, as we have learned from reports published [in identical language] in at least two separate Israeli papers last week, and discussed in comments in an earlier post on this blog, the IDF has decided — since the “Second Lebanon War” in 2006 — to implement a forceful policy by “showing the flag” on a near-daily basis in enclaves along the Blue Line, in order to demonstrate Israeli claims to sovereignty.

So, it should be noted that while the IDF has been showing its muscle for several years, the Lebanese Army engaged the IDF for the first time ever, last week…

Shlomo Brom writes that “It seems the main reason for this policy is the political need for the Lebanese army to demonstrate that it – and not Hizbollah – is the defender of Lebanese sovereignty. In the game of internal Lebanese politics, Hizbollah justifies its military force as being Lebanon’s defender. Thus Hizbollah rushed in to declare that after this incident, next time its forces would respond to an attack on the Lebanese army, this in order to underline the authenticity of its role as defender of Lebanese sovereignty”.

Actually, if memory serves, Hizballah was somewhat more deferential to the Lebanese Army, and said it would respond to future attacks on the Lebanese Army if the Lebanese Army asks Hizballah to do so…

In any case, Brom’s analysis continues: “Moreover, Hizbollah senior officials claimed the incident was an expression of Israel’s desire to draw Hizbollah into a broad military confrontation. Apparently, Hizbollah has no interest in such a confrontation, at least at this time, and this reflects the extent of the mutual deterrence between Israel and Hizbollah that evolved in the aftermath of the 2006 war. This deterrence is based on the threat and capability of both sides to seriously damage the home front of the other”…

And, Brom said, “Also important here is UNIFIL’s role. If one of the two sides is interested in harming the other, it is not within UNIFIL’s power to prevent it, nor is it within its mandate. UNIFIL serves as a mechanism to help prevent conflict eruption when both sides have no interest in friction. In this case it appears that UNIFIL, cognizant of the dispute between the sides, tried to prevent the incident. Although it failed in this regard, it played an important role in contacts between the parties intent on containing the incident and preventing its mushrooming”.

Of course, it would be better if UNIFIL could fulfill its role without looking quite so silly.

UNIFIL was reportedly notified by the IDF at 0630 am on the morning of this engagement. The IDF began its “routine maintenance” at 1130 am — and the film shown on Youtube was clearly taken at mid-day.

Brom then summarizes: “Thus the initial conclusion from the August 3 incident is that all of the involved parties – Israel, Hizbollah, and the Lebanese government – want to avoid being drawn into a military confrontation and hence will strive to contain points of friction. The second conclusion is that since the interest of all sides at this time is to minimize points of friction, efforts toward the precise demarcation of the Blue Line on the ground under UNIFIL auspices must be accelerated. [Wouldn’t it have been better, here, to have written “under UN auspices”?] The third conclusion is that UNIFIL fulfills a positive and stabilizing role, even if it is unable to satisfy exaggerated Israeli expectations – to forcibly prevent any attempt to strike Israel. Within the limited framework of the mandate under Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL is indeed functioning reasonably”. Shlomo Brom’s INSS analysis can be read in full here.

Israel announces several panels to investigate Flotilla tragedy

According to the news announced Monday night:

(1) Major-General [res.] Giora Eiland (an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, or INSS, in Tel Aviv) has been appointed by IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to head an investigative team to “conduct an internal military investigation into the Israel Navy’s deadly raid of a humanitarian aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip”, as Haaretz reported.  “The team has been charged with studying the failures and lessons of the commando raid on a Turkish-flagged ship last week that left nine activists dead and several people wounded … Eiland and his team will consider internal navy testimonies already gathered in the week since the raid and will open a series of fresh investigations as well”.

(2) Haaretz added that “Hours before the IDF’s announcement, Haaretz learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to appoint a state panel of inquiry to investigate the Israel Navy raid.  A senior source in Jerusalem said the panel would comprise top justices experienced in matters of international and marine law. Two international justices – at least one of them American – would be invited to participate as observers, said the source. In addition to investigating the circumstances surrounding the Israel Navy’s seizure of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the committee will also be charged with looking into the legality of Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip and its naval blockade

[UPDATE: On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu noted that Israel was still in consultations with the U.S, over the form of the inquiry, but said that “I, the minister of defense, other cabinet ministers and the chief of staff will all testify and supply all the facts. But I have insisted that the only body that will continue to oversee questioning of the commandos will be the IDF. This is how the armies of all our global allies operate”… According to a report in Haaretz, Netanyahu said that the activists on board the Freedom Flotilla should be investigated as well: “We have to establish who stood behind this extremist group, who financed its members, and how knives, axes and other weapons were brought aboard … We also need to ask what large sums of money found aboard the boats were doing there, and for whom they were intended”. This is reported here.

Continue reading Israel announces several panels to investigate Flotilla tragedy

Fatah fallout continues

Nabil Amr, who was spokesman for the Fatah Sixth General Conference held in Bethlehem from 4-14 August (more or less),has just resigned his posts as Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt and to the Arab League whose headquarters in Cairo, and also as head of the Fatah satellite television channel, Filastina, that he started in recent months with a reported budget of $500,000. Amr left the Conference before it ended (it was originally scheduled to last only three days) for previously-scheduled medical treatment.

Amr was shot in the summer of 2004 by unknown gunmen while standing on the balcony of his home in Ramallah, after remarks he made in a television interview in which he criticized then-leader Yasser Arafat. As a result, his leg had to be amputated during his emergency hospitalization in Jordan, and he subsequently was treated in Germany as well.

Amr, a former journalist, was a member of Fatah’s outgoing Revolutionary Council who ran for election to the Central Committee but lost.

So far, Amr has not given any explanation for his resignations from all his current posts.

He announced his reported resignation from Cairo, according to a report by Bathlehem-based Ma’an News Agency published here, and said he was returning to Ramallah, and would make his formal farwell from the Egyptian capital later.

Mohammad Dahlan, the former head of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in Gaza, who was successful in his campaign to win a seat on the Fatah Central Committee, has reportedly been in Cairo in recent days.

The Fatah General Conference endorsed a proposal by Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that all candidates who win elections to seats in either the Central Committee or the Revolutionary Council would have to resign from all other jobs. But the only resignation that has been announced so far is that of Tawfik Tirawi, now elected to the Central Committee, who reportedly resigned as an adviser to Abbas. It is not clear if Tirawi also resigned as head of the Palestinian training academy for security forces in Jericho.

Abbas — who is now head of the overarching Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the elected President of the Palestinian Authority as well as the newly-appointed leader of Fatah [by acclamation, in front of the television cameras suddenly called into the otherwise closed conference proceedings] now holds a concentration of political power similar to that held previously by the late Yasser Arafat.

He has just decided to call a meeting of the PLO’s 600+member Palestine National Council, or Parliament, just over a week from now. On the agenda, apparently, is a proposal to add six new members to the PLO’s Executive Committee, boosting the number of seats from 12 to 18 — one way to compensate some of those who lost in the Fatah elections.

And, Abbas still hasn’t played his other cards remaining after the elections at the Fatah 6th Conference — he can still name three members to the Central Committee, and a dozen or two members to the Revolutionary Council, subject to the approval of the Central Committee and the accord of the Revolutionary Council.

Continue reading Fatah fallout continues

Hamas reportedly criticizes rocket attacks on Israel coming from Gaza

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that “Gaza’s Hamas rulers issued rare criticism Thursday of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the strip, saying now is the wrong time for such attacks … Hamas said Thursday that it was not behind recent attacks and that it was investigating who was responsible”.

This AP report was picked up and published by Haaretz here.

On 9 March, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center reported that, according to a report on Israel’s YNet, Islamic Jihad said that Hamas arrested ten “activists” who fired rockets towards Israel, and later released nine of them.

Today’s AP story speculated that Hamas “apparently fears that new rocket fire could disrupt the reconciliation talks currently underway in Cairo”.
Continue reading Hamas reportedly criticizes rocket attacks on Israel coming from Gaza