More on the Lebanon border

Angry Arab writes

There is a mood of anxiety in Lebanon. People are really concerned about the prospects of an Arab-Israeli war. A friend called me from South Lebanon yesterday because his wife was freaking out being there and wanted assurances from me that there is no war. I tell people who ask me daily that there is no war coming here, but that it is hard to prove. I had a long argument/discussion with Norman Finkelstein last week about this issue: he thinks that war is coming and I don’t. Don’t get me wrong: all sides are preparing but Israel does not have any more tricks up its dirty sleeves against Hizbullah. They tried all that they had and got humiliated back in 2006. Why would killing more Lebanese civilians and destroying many more buildings advance the Israeli cause, you would as. Israel ran out of options against Hizbullah a few years ago. The uncovering of wide network of Israeli spies in Lebanon is the biggest espionage story in the history of the Middle East conflict. Israel “uncovers” one Arab spy in Israel and it becomes a sensational international headline. Lebanon and its police–Lebanon for potato’s sake–are producing Israeli spies at the rate of one a week–and the international press is barely taking notice. This is big. This will set back all Israeli criminal espionage decades backwards. That is what Hasan Nasrallah meant about the “blind elephant.” Gulf tourists did not show up in large numbers this summer: partly due to anxieties about war and partly because the Gulf tourists now prefer Syria and Egypt because the people there don’t cheat them like the Lebanese do. A Lebanese can’t see a Saudi without seeing dollar signs over his/her head. It is pathetic. One should say more about Saudi Arabia: the ruling elite is fragmented more than ever. Every prince is practically running his own media and his own foreign policy.

I think AA is wrong and Finkelstein is right. Israeli propaganda is making into American and Israeli press about the upcoming war, politicians are making statements about what they’ll do to Lebanon and so on. The ground is being prepared. AA says Israel has no dirty tricks to play against Hezbollah. This is stupid: Israel doesn’t plan on destroying Hezbollah. It plans on bombing Lebanon. It doesn’t need to send in soldiers. It can kill thousands and destroy the country without sending in soldiers, and so “teach” Lebanon a lesson about Hezbollah.

Also, the thing about the spies should be noted, because it doesn’t get much if any Western coverage.

More facts, then analysis by Gideon Levy and Haaretz editorial.

Firstly, UNIFIL says that the Israeli soldier was on the Israeli side of the Blue Line.

Israeli troops clearing a tree obstructing surveillance of the Lebanese border did not leave Israeli territory, the United Nations force tasked with monitoring the contentious frontier said yesterday.

“The trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side,” said Lt. Naresh Bhatt, a spokesman for UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

In Beirut, Information Minister Tareq Mitri acknowledged that the area was south of the line, but said it was still Lebanese territory.

Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai spoke with his Lebanese counterpart Saad Hariri to emphasize his government’s support for Beirut.

Yesterday the Israel Defense Forces unit that had begun clearing the underbrush completed its work. Lebanese and UNIFIL troops again observed the operation, but this time no shots were fired on either side.

UNIFIL has also confirmed they agreed with IDF beforehand on the tree clearing.

A UNIFIL official in southern Lebanon confirmed Wednesday that the IDF informed the organization of its intention to conduct routine maintenance work Tuesday in the area between Israel‘s border fence and the international border where Lebanese Army forces opened fire on IDF soldiers, killing  Lt.-Col. (res) Dov Harari, Army Radio reported.

“I can confirm that we received notification from the IDF about the work and we passed the information on to the Lebanese Army,” said the Hungarian diplomat who is part of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon.

He added that UNIFIL does not believe IDF soldiers crossed the international border during the maintenance work, but a UNIFIL technical team will investigate Wednesday where the IDF forces were exactly in relation to the border when the Lebanese Army snipers opened fire.

The spy arrests is also noted in Haaretz.

Lebanese authorities have detained a high-ranking army officer, a Christian party member and a telecom firm employee, in the latest round of arrests of people suspected of spying for Israel, a security source said.

Two other Lebanese have been sentenced to death for spying for Israel. President Michel Suleiman has called for severe punishment for spies and said if he receives a death sentence verdict he will sign it.

Lebanon began a wave of arrests in April 2009 as part of an espionage investigation in which dozens of people have been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel. A brigadier general of the General Security directorate was among the high profile detentions. More than 20 people have been formally charged.

Israel has not commented on any of the arrests.

Senior Lebanese security officials have said the arrests dealt a major blow to Israel’s spying networks in Lebanon and that many of the suspects played key roles in identifying Hezbollah targets that were bombed during the 2006 war.

Emphasis added. That’s how you know they’ve caught Israeli spies.

From the UNIFIL Website. And it’s also worth noting – because again, other than As’ad AbuKhalil, you won’t read of it – Israel has routinely violated Lebanese airspace and territory since the end of the last war (and of course since before it)

13 July 2010 – While Israel and Lebanon have enjoyed the longest period of stability in their recent history, not enough progress has been made on key obligations under the Security Council resolution that ended the hostilities of 2006, according to a new United Nations report released today.In addition to bringing to a close the conflict that took place between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah four years ago, resolution 1701 also calls for respect for the so-called Blue Line separating the Israeli and Lebanese sides, the disarming of all militias operating in Lebanon and an end to arms smuggling in the area.

“Although the parties remained committed to the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), a number of violations occurred and no progress was recorded with regard to key obligations under the resolution,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in his latest report on the issue.

He voices concern about ongoing air violations committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) through almost daily overflights of Lebanese territory, as well as ground violations of the Blue Line that have occurred in recent months.

“The inherent risk of escalating the security situation that these incidents carry cannot be overstated,” he warns.

In addition, he stresses that Israel must withdraw its forces from the northern part of the village of Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line, in accordance with the resolution, and urges the Israeli Government to expedite the withdrawal of the IDF from the area without further delay.

He adds that amid allegations of continued arms transfers to Hizbollah, in violation of the resolution, “a perceptible increase in tension between the parties was recorded during the reporting period,” which covers developments since his February report.

“That raised the spectre of a miscalculation by either party leading to a resumption of hostilities, with potentially devastating consequences for Lebanon and the region,” he says.

Emphasis added.

Haaretz editorialises on the incident:

At the same time, the government and the IDF have for several months been preparing the Israeli public for the possibility of a war in the north. They are aware of the tremendous political tension in Lebanon, of the struggle Hezbollah is waging against accusations of murdering former prime minister Rafik Hariri more than five years ago, and of the massive diplomatic effort by Saudi Arabia to steady the situation in Lebanon.

The government and the IDF must understand that not every time is right for demonstrating Israeli sovereignty right up to the last millimeter, certainly not when tension is rising on both sides of the border. Employing restraint and waiting at such a time are not an expression of weakness, but of wisdom and political sensitivity.

And Gideon Levy, of course, is excellent as usual.

Those bastards, the Lebanese, changed the rules. Scandalous. Word is, they have a brigade commander who’s determined to protect his country’s sovereignty. Scandalous.

The explanation here was that he’s “indoctrinating his troops” – only we’re allowed to do that, of course – and that this was “the spirit of the commander” and that he’s “close to Hezbollah.” The nerve.

And now that we’ve recited ad nauseum the explanations of Israel Defense Forces propaganda for what happened Tuesday at the northern border, the facts should also be looked at.

On Tuesday morning, Israel requested “coordination” with UNIFIL to carry out another “exposing” operation on the border fence. UNIFIL asked the IDF to postpone the operation, because its commander is abroad. The IDF didn’t care. UNIFIL won’t stop us.

At noon the tree-cutters set out. The Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers shouted at them to stop. In Lebanon they say their soldiers also fired warning shots in the air. If they did, it didn’t stop the IDF.

The tree branches were cut and blood was shed on both sides of the border. Shed in vain.

True, Israel maintains that the area across the fence is its territory, and UNIFIL officially confirmed that yesterday. But a fence is a fence: In Gaza it’s enough to get near the fence for us to shoot to kill. In the West Bank the fence’s route bears no resemblance to the Green Line, and still Palestinians are forbidden from crossing it.

In Lebanon we made different rules: the fence is just a fence, we’re allowed to cross it and do whatever we like on the other side, sometimes in sovereign Lebanese territory. We can routinely fly in Lebanese airspace and sometimes invade as well.

This area was under Israeli occupation for 18 years, without us ever acknowledging it. It was an occupation no less brutal than the one in the territories, but whitewashed well. “The security zone,” we called it. So now, as well, we can do what we like.

But suddenly there was a change. How did our analysts put it? Recently there’s been “abnormal firing” at Israeli aircraft. After all, order must be maintained: We’re allowed to fly in Lebanese airspace, they are not permitted to shoot.

But Tuesday’s incident, which was blown out of proportion here as if it were cause for a war that only the famed Israeli “restraint” prevented, should be seen in its wider context. For months now the drums of war have been beating here again. Rat-a-tat, danger, Scuds from Syria, war in the north.

No one asks why and wherefore, it’s just that summer’s here, and with it our usual threats of war. But a UN report published this week held Israel fully responsible for creating this dangerous tension.

In this overheated atmosphere the IDF should have been careful when lighting its matches. UNIFIL requests a delay of an operation? The area is explosive? The work should have been postponed. Maybe the Lebanese Army is more determined now to protect its country’s sovereignty – that is not only its right, but its duty – and a Lebanese commander who sees the IDF operating across the fence might give an order to shoot, even unjustifiably.

Who better than the IDF knows the pattern of shooting at any real or imagined violation? Just ask the soldiers at the separation fence or guarding Gaza. But Israel arrogantly dismissed UNIFIL’s request for a delay.

It’s the same arrogance behind the demand that the U.S. and France stop arming the Lebanese military. Only our military is allowed to build up arms. After years in which Israel demanded that the Lebanese Army take responsibility for what is happening in southern Lebanon, it is now doing so and we’ve changed our tune. Why? Because it stopped behaving like Israel’s subcontractor and is starting to act like the army of a sovereign state.

And that’s forbidden, of course. After the guns fall silent, the cry goes up again here to strike another “heavy blow” against Lebanon to “deter” it – maybe some more of the destruction that was inflicted on Beirut’s Dahiya neighborhood.

Three Lebanese killed, including a journalist, are not enough of a response to the killing of our battalion commander. We want more. Lebanon must learn a lesson, and we will teach it.

And what about us? We don’t have any lessons to learn. We’ll continue to ignore UNIFIL, ignore the Lebanese Army and its new brigade commander, who has the nerve to think that his job is to protect his country’s sovereignty.

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