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.”