New IDF information offensive against Hizballah

An Associated Press report this morning indicates that the Israeli Defense Forces have launched a new information offensive against Hizballah.

The IDF has taken journalists to the the northern “border” [though there is no agreed border as yet] between Israel and Lebanon, and shown what the IDF claims is evidence that “Hezbollah is moving fighters and weapons into the villages of south Lebanon, building up a secret network of arms warehouses, bunkers and command posts in preparation for war. The Israeli military has begun releasing detailed information about what it calls Hezbollah’s new border deployment, four years after a cross-border raid by its guerrillas triggered a 34-day war … Neither side has signaled that another war is imminent, but the Israelis’ unusual openness about what they claim to know of Hezbollah’s preparations seems to have two goals: to show the reach of their intelligence, and to stake their claim that if another war breaks out and many civilians die, it will be because Hezbollah placed its armaments and fighters in their midst. Israel’s military says Hezbollah has changed strategy since the last war, moving most of its fighters and weapons from wooded rural areas into villages. It says the aim is to avoid detection and use to civilians for cover if war erupts”. This is reported here.

This, as we reported earlier on this blog, is exactly what the spoon-fed Israeli television + other media has been reporting for at least a year, if not more — obviously based on privileged background briefings from the IDF.

Continue reading New IDF information offensive against Hizballah

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.

What does UNIFIL have to say today? The Blue Line is "sensitive", but "quiet prevails at this time"

This is what the UN likes best – holding meetings… [This one was, unsurprisingly, “constructive”]. That, and calling on both sides to exercise “maximum restraint” [safely, after the most senior officials in the U.S. administration already used the exact same language]…

Here is a statement issued today by the UNIFIL spokesperson in Naqoura, Lebanon:
“UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas chaired an extraordinary tripartite meeting with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) tonight at the UN Position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing in south Lebanon. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Mr. Michael Williams also attended and addressed the meeting. The meeting specifically addressed the serious situation that developed in the last two days following the exchange of fire between Lebanese and Israeli forces across the Blue Line in El Adeisse yesterday, causing regrettable loss of lives. UNIFIL informed the parties that a thorough investigation into yesterday’s events is underway and presented its preliminary findings. On completion of the ongoing investigation, UNIFIL will share its findings with both the parties. In the meantime, UNIFIL urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid any action that could serve to heighten tensions, and work with UNIFIL in taking steps to prevent any recurrence of such a situation. Following the tripartite meeting, UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Asarta said: ‘We had a constructive meeting. I stressed the importance of ensuring full respect for the Blue Line by all the parties. I reiterated the sensitivity of the Blue Line and urged utmost caution in any actions along the Blue Line that could be perceived as provocative and exacerbate tensions. I called on the parties to utilize the liaison and coordination mechanism through UNIFIL particularly on matters relating to the Blue Line in order to minimize the scope for any misunderstandings or apprehensions that may lead to wanton escalation’. The Force Commander noted that both the parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and to UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and undertook to work with UNIFIL to ensure that incidents of violence are avoided in the future.  He added that the situation has returned to normal and quiet prevails in UNIFIL’s area of operations at this time”.

UPDATE: The IDF later issued a rather uninformative statement, revealing only that it “was represented by Brig. Gen. Yossi Hyman, Head of Strategy in the IDF Planning Department, who was brought together with an LAF representative and UNIFIL Commander Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas. During the meeting, Gen. Cuevas urged both parties to exercise restraint in order to ‘refrain from any action that could lead to an escalation’.   Gen. Cuevas asked the LAF and the IDF to cooperate with UNIFIL, in order to prevent any future misunderstandings which could result in even worse consequences.  ‘UNIFIL is in contact with both sides, in order to ensure that the situation in the area is under control and that there is no violation of the Blue Line, it was reported”. This IDF statement is posted here.

Then, repeating its maddeningly careless (though perhaps deliberate) and imprecise use of language, the IDF statement concluded this statement by noting that “The Spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, also discussed the event during a press conference in Washington.  According to him, ‘the shootings by the Lebanese army towards IDF forces on the northern border are completely unjustified’.  Crowley also stressed that the pruning work executed by the IDF took place in Israeli territory“.

Actually, Crowley did not attibute that exact piece of territory to Israel.   Despite what the IDF wrote in their statement, a consultation of the transcript provided by the U.S.  State Department shows Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley told journalists at the daily State Department briefing in Washington on Wednesday that what Crowley said was this:  “The United Nations has now established that the trees cut by the Israeli Defense Forces were on the Israeli side of the line that separates Israel and Lebanon [n.b. – Crowley himself also carelessly and imprecisely used the word “border” a couple of times, later, but he was very careful not to say that the territory in question belonged to Israel].  The firing by Lebanese Armed Forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted”.

Then, there was this exchange with a journalist at the State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Are the lines of demarcation along that border clearly defined? Do you know from the line?

MR. CROWLEY: I can only cite information reported today that the precise border is a matter of some dispute between the two countries. I’m not here to get involved in the middle of that.

QUESTION: One last quick follow-up. Are you concerned that the Israeli army might take this as a pretext to strike across the Lebanese border?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly, as we have made clear yesterday and today and will continue to make clear, we do not think that this incident should escalate any further.

QUESTION: Do you take a – do you have any position on the actual tree trimming –

MR. CROWLEY: Again –

QUESTION: — in terms of whether – no, no, this is a serious question. I’m not suggesting that –

MR. CROWLEY: No, it is a serious question.

QUESTION: — tree surgeons be brought in to be part of the UNIFIL team.  But I am wondering if you think that that in itself is a provocative – if that is provocative.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the idea that you would have tree trimmings so you have clear sightlines across the border so that you would hope that these clear sightlines would prevent misunderstandings or unfortunate actions on side or the other. So – but the issue that I’m sure was covered today was whether there was proper notification that there was going to be this kind of activity on one side of the border. And if there was that kind of notification, how was it received on the other side? And precisely, what led to the circumstances where the Lebanese Armed Forces fired on the Israelis?

QUESTION: But your position would be then if there was proper notification, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’re against tree trimming along the border if it improves – if it increases security along the border”…

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…

Israeli defence officials worried about European commitment in Lebanon

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israeli defense officials are worried that European countries might reduce their forces in the newly-beefed-up UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. “Concerns are mounting in the Israeli defense establishment over the possibility that European countries which contribute military forces to UNIFIL might begin to gradually reduce their participation in the peacekeeping force over the coming year, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. According to the officials, the political instability in Lebanon on the one hand, and the growing threats in southern Lebanon against the UN force by Hizbullah as well as al-Qaida elements on the other, could cause European countries to reconsider the extent of their participation in the peacekeeping force. UNIFIL was significantly enlarged – from a force of 2,000 troops to over 13,000 – following the Second Lebanon War Israel fought against Hizbullah in the summer of 2006 … The concern over the fate of UNIFIL was reportedly recently raised by the force commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano, who was quoted as warning Lebanese leaders he met in Beirut last week that the tension in the south and a deepening political crisis in the country might prompt European countries ‘to withdraw from UNIFIL within less than four months’. In addition to the concerns over the future of UNIFIL, the IDF has recently lodged informal complaints with several European countries over the fact that their forces are, according to Israel, involved more in protecting themselves from terror groups in southern Lebanon than in fulfilling their mission of preventing weapons smuggling and Hizbullah buildup…”

The JPost story reporting Israeli concerns about European force commitment to UNIFIL

Nahr Al-Bared returnees find homes destroyed systematically

Nahr Al-Bared is the Palestinian refugee camp rocked by months of fighting since May, when the Lebanese Army went after members of the Fatah Al-Islam splinter group. This fighting took place just under a year after the ferocious two-month Israeli attack (June-August 2006) that targetted much of Lebanon’s infrastructure, not only in the south of the country, following Hizbollah’s attack on a group of Israeli soldiers in the Shebaa Farms area that Hizbollah says belongs to Lebanon. Hizbollah is still holding two of these soldiers captive, without any visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). After the active conflict ended (though Israeli overflights are, however, reportedly continuing — Israel says they are needed to monitor Hizbollah’s rearming), there were a number of internal attacks, including bank robberies and bus bombings, that the Lebanese government accuses Fatah Al-Islam of committing.

A number of Palestinian officials and Fatah leaders in Lebanon also denounced Fatah Al-Islam. The situation in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon was said to be explosive — many of the refugees crowded inside have not been given Lebanese documentation, and they are not allowed to work in many professions, and construction materials to improve their housing is not allowed inside the camps.

During the Lebanese Army attack, many Palestinians from Nahr Al-Bared were evacuated to other already crowded refugee camps in Lebanon.

Given a chance to return recently, a number of the Nahr Al-Bared evacuees did just that — despite the danger of unexploded ordinance throughout the camp, and reports that their homes were surely damaged if not destroyed.

But, according to this account, what they found was much worse that what they had been told — and even what they had imagined:

“Between May and September of this year, a ferocious battle took place between the Lebanese Army and a small armed group known as Fatah Al Islam. From the first the day, the Lebanese Army surrounded the camp and fired in artillery, maintaining this course for months. Most of the residents of the camp were forced to leave with the clothes on their backs within the first three days. As the number of young Lebanese soldiers killed and horribly maimed rose through the battle, Lebanon became awash with patriotism and grief, any questioning of the army taboo.

“Something terrible has been done to the residents of Nahr al Bared, and the Lebanese people are being spared the details. Over the past two weeks, since the camp was partly reopened to a few of its residents, many of us who have been there have been stunned by a powerful reality. Beyond the massive destruction of the homes from three months of bombing, room after room, house after house have been burned. Burned from the inside. Amongst the ashes on the ground, are the insides of what appear to have been car tyres. The walls have soot dripping down from what seems clearly to have been something flammable sprayed on them. Rooms, houses, shops, garages – all blackened ruins, yet having had no damage from bombing or battle. They were burned deliberately by people entering and torching them.

“How many we do not know, it is too large for a few people to comprehensively assess. But finding an un-bombed house or a business that has not been torched is very hard indeed.Why did this happen? Why have the people whose entire life’s work is to be found in ashes on the floor of these burned out homes, not been given any information about this – not a word? Each day new people return to find that this is what has happened to their homes.

“It is not just the burning of houses. Cars that residents were ordered to leave behind in the first days of the battle have been smashed up. Mopeds and TVs and all that ordinary people value, also broken up. Fridge after fridge with bullets through them. All of this clearly done from inside the houses, not from any outside battle.

“People returning to their homes sit outside alone on the ground. Stunned. When you ask them to bring you into their houses, they tell you, person after person, of how their valuables were stolen. Even where the valuables were well hidden, everything was ransacked and valuables found. Explosives were used to get through locked doors or to open safes. Items that people have had stolen include everything from clothes to cars. That which has not been burned, which was not smashed, which was of value seems to have vanished …

“On the inside walls of many, many houses, are written slogans. Everything from proud soldiers noting army units, to profoundly racist, offensive slogans against Palestinian people. Many families have found some of their belongings in nearby houses. Faeces are on some mattresses and floors.

“Every day that goes by more families return to the camp. Within hours, they have swept up and cleared away ashes and debris, so that they can try to imagine where to begin again. Mattresses with faeces are being burned. Journalists are still prohibited from the camp. Cameras are illegal there. Human rights groups have not entered …”

This report was published here on Electronic Intifada.

According to the UN spokesperson on Wednesday, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon has informed the UN Security Council that “Lebanon has continued to experience political crisis and instability in recent months. He notes the recent challenge posed by the Fatah al-Islam group, and commends the Lebanese Government and Armed Forces for successfully weathering a critical test on the road to a truly free and sovereign Lebanon“.

In this report, BAN calls Fatah al-Islam a “militant Islamist group”. Click on your preferred of the UN’s six official working languages for this report here.

A very large part of Ban’s report is devoted to Fatah al-Islam, and observes that “the emergence of Fatah al-Islam, the precarious security situation and the enduring political stalemate underline the undiminished challenges to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon”.

Ban reported that he received a letter dated 8 October from Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora information, the Prime Minister wrote, “clearly points to a carefully drawn plot, of very serious and dangerous proportions, to seize control of a good part of northern Lebanon, destabilize the whole country by bombing Government and business institutions, mount attacks against UNIFIL in order to threaten participating countries and jeopardize the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, particularly 1701 (2006)”.

There was an oblique reference to an attack on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on 24 June that killed six peacekeepers.

Continue reading Nahr Al-Bared returnees find homes destroyed systematically

UNIFIL ship's radar causing TV disruption may have been tracking Israeli actions against Syria: Israeli newspaper reports

The Jerusalem Post is running an amazing report: “The Post has learned that shortly after the Israeli Air Force attack on a Syrian target on the night of September 6, perhaps as early as a few hours after the attack, the Dutch navy vessel moved into position and began deploying its radar to obtain as much information as possible about the military events of that night in northern Syria. That same night, massive disturbances to YES [n.b., television] transmissions were recorded, largely in northern Israel. Netherlands Ministry of Defense head of Public Affairs Commander Richard Keulen would not confirm that the De Ruyter moved into position and switched on its radar on September 6, saying he could not discuss operational details. Keulen stressed that he was not ruling out the De Ruyter’s possible role in the disturbances, but added that there were other vessels in the UNIFIL flotilla operating similar radar equipment which are also monitoring and implementing the UN mandate reached after last summer’s war. Once reports of the disturbances started coming in, the Dutch vessel was ordered to modify its radar transmission to minimize the risk of distortion, Keulen told the Post on Monday, adding, ‘We are not sure that we are the only cause of the distortion’.”

It is not known if the UN is aware of this report. It does show that governments acting under a UN Peacekeeping Mandate can, and do, quite a bit outside the official mandate as well — though the Public Affairs Commander of the Dutch Defense Ministry said that information gathered passed up the UN chain of command.

The JPost added that “Keulen says that the De Ruyter operates a powerful APAR [Active Phased Array Radar] system which tracks air traffic, both commercial and military, in a specific area, via alternating frequency transmissions. ‘We are not there for fun. We are maintaining a good situational awareness, and part of that is to get a really good picture of the air traffic in the area that must be sent to the UN commander as part of the posture of that mission, so that the commander can send the information up the UN chain of command’, Keulen said. The officer would not comment on whether or not the De Ruyter was given special orders on the night of September 6”.

It was a public uproar over disturbances to television broadcasts in Israel has led to this revelation, according to the JPost: “Electronic disturbances that have played havoc with the YES satellite television company’s broadcasts in the past month were caused by powerful radar equipment deployed onboard a Dutch Navy vessel off the Lebanese coast, The Jerusalem Post has established. The disturbances took the form of time delays on soundtracks as well as distorted and fragmented pictures during broadcasts. Sources close to YES say that the disturbances, which have caused the company significant financial harm, were caused by an extremely powerful radar system, exponentially stronger than the signal beamed to subscribers’ home dishes. The radar was deployed by a UNIFIL vessel, possibly the Dutch vessel HNLMS De Ruyter, an air defense frigate, off the coast of Lebanon … According to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the De Ruyter’s orders are to check for illegal arms transports into Lebanon and to contribute to upholding security at sea”.

The JPost appears to be convinced that these disturbances have indeed been caused by the Dutch ship participating in the expanded UNIFIL – the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. UNIFIL added a naval component to its force off Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast during and after Israel’s attack on Lebanon after several Israeli soldiers were abducted by Hizballah — in solidarity with Palestinian armed groups in Gaza who had earlier kidnapped an Israeli soldier just outside of the Gaza Strip. [Last year’s Israeli attack is now known as the Second Lebanese War.]
Continue reading UNIFIL ship's radar causing TV disruption may have been tracking Israeli actions against Syria: Israeli newspaper reports

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

Israeli paper says UNIFIL wants mandate change so it can fight Hizbullah!

You could get the impression these days that, around the world, UN Peacekeepers are champing at the bit, just looking for a fight!

And if the Israeli Defense Forces couldn’t trounce Hamas, how do these various units of UN Peacekeepers (including from Qatar) think they could do so?

The Jerusalem Post has reported that “UNIFIL would like a more aggressive mandate for its forces to engage Hizbullah on their own, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
After last summer’s war in Lebanon and the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL was beefed up from 2,000 troops to more than 12,000 and received a mandate stipulating that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) be present during any incident involving Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. According to the mandate’s rules of engagement, UNIFIL soldiers are not allowed to engage Hizbullah guerrillas independently. They must first contact the LAF and wait for their arrival and decision whether they request UNIFIL assistance. ‘There is a feeling of frustration within UNIFIL that under the current rules of engagement they are not free to do their job, which is to prevent Hizbullah rearmament in southern Lebanon’, an Israeli defense official told the Post. UNIFIL, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy, cannot make changes to the rules of engagement on its own. The decision needs to be made by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in conjunction with countries that contribute forces to UNIFIL. UNIFIL is considering rules of engagement that would allow its forces to engage Hizbullah if the LAF does not arrive after being alerted to an incident within a specified, and as yet undetermined, length of time. According to Israeli officials, UNIFIL sometimes waits a long time before the LAF arrives at the scene of an incident. ‘This would certainly be in Israel’s best interest’, a source in IDF Northern Command said. ‘With more aggressive rules of engagement, UNIFIL would be able to more effectively carry out its role at preventing Hizbullah from rearming’. Sources in Northern Command said they have been satisfied with UNIFIL’s performance and believed more could be done within the framework of the current rules of engagement. The sources said OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Graziano had a good relationship. When the two met last week, they reportedly reminisced about the year they spent together at the US College of Military and Security Studies. A senior government official who deals with the UN said he did not know of any move by UNIFIL to alter its rules of engagement. The official said UNIFIL has ‘enough tools to operate within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, both south and north of the Litani’.
Meanwhile Thursday, the Turkish press reported that Ankara was bidding to take over command of the UNIFIL maritime force when Germany’s term ends in July.
A local Turkey expert could not confirm the reports, but did say such a move would make sense from a Turkish point of view. According to the source, such a mandate would allow Turkey to raise its profile in the Middle East, something it has been trying to do for some time, at only minimal risk. In addition, the source said, the Turkish and Israeli navies had a good working relationship. The source said a decision to take over the maritime command likely would face little opposition inside Turkey for a number of reasons: first, because it would not be considered dangerous, and second because it would not entail moving Turkish forces from the southern border with Iraq.
Turkey has 87 engineers in the multinational force, and there was some internal opposition to sending troops to the force because of the feeling that the Turkish military should concentrate on the volatile situation on its southern border with Iraq. The Turkish navy, by contrast, is not involved in the situation on that landlocked border.”

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