Is this the opening act of a new round of fighting? Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire on Tuesday on the Israel-Lebanon border, Reuters reported. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed, as well as Assaf Abou Rahhal, a Lebanese journalist with the newspaper Al-Akhbar. Hezbollah's tv Al-Manar reported that one its journalists, Ali Cheaib, was injured. Al-Manar tv also reported that an Israeli lieutenant colonel got killed as well, and others wounded. Hours later the Israeli army confirmed the death of the lieutenant colonel Dov Harari (45), while a reserve captain was seriously wounded.
According to Israeli sources the clashes started when Israeli army engineers came under fire from Lebanese soldiers while working along the frontier. The troops then shot back, according to Israel. Lebanse security sources said that it started when the Israelis wanted to cut down a tree on Lebanons side of the border. The Lebanese army fired warning shots with light weapons and the Israelis answered by shelling the Lebanese border village of Adaysseh, thereby wounding one Lebanese soldier and one civilian. Lateron also rockets were fired from an Israeli helicopter that overflew the village, thereby killing two soldiers and the journalist, while four others were wounded and military vehicles were destroyed.Photo Reuters
This picture lateron emerged which clearly shows that the Israelis were working on the Lebanese side of the border. The question is: Why? The Lebanese army at a press conference, covered by Patrcik Galey of the Daily Star, stated that the Israelis were working over the 'blue line' around Adaysseh and ignored attempts of Unifil to stop them, as well as warning shots the Lebanese army fired.
Israëls minister of Defense Ehud Barak later in the day in a declaration said that Israël is not going to tolerate attacks on its patrols within its borders. General Gadi Eizenkott, the commander of Israels northern sector, called it an 'ambush on an IDF unit operating inside Israeli territory'. It is noteworthy that there is a differnce between what is called the 'technical border' (the fence) and what is called 'the blue line' (a demarcation of the actual border executed by the UN in 2000). So Israel may have been operating on its side of the blue line, but that still does not explain why it did so, in spite of the fact that both Lebanon and Unifil deny Israeli claims that it coordinated the trimming in advance. Patrick Galey of the Daily Star specifically asked Unifil about this Israeli claim and got the aswer that Unifil was unaware of it. Even more telling was Ynet which revealed, quoting Al-Jazeera, that Israel two days earlier tried to coordinate the bush trimming operation with Lebanon, only to be met with a refusal to do so..
The more the story continues, the more it becomes apparent who's to blame for this event.
Update wednesday 4-8-10: Unifil today ruled that the tree Israel wanted to cut was on the Israeli side of the blue line. Dutch public radio, known for its near total lack of a critical approach towards Israel, repeated this news several times, as if this exonerated Israel from all culpability. The radio thereby left out that Lebanon disputes the tracé of the blue line at this spot, 'as Israel does at others'. (Beirut said this in a declaration).
It remains an open question why not too many western media posed questions like whether Israel shouldn't have tried harder to coordinate its trimming operation with the Lebanese. The way it acted had all the characteristics of a provocation. Is it too far fetched to suspect that Tel Aviv wanted to test the Lebanese reaction? More specifically that of Hezbollah? (for this reaction see my post on Nasrallah's speech, held the same day).
In any case the way the newspaper Haaretz brings the news today as if Israel was completely in its right, seems to miss the point. Israel in the meantime, decided to return to the spot on Wednesday in order to finish the tree cutting job, thereby demonstrating for the xth time its total lack of respect for its neighbours.
Update 2 wednesday 4-8-10: Patrick Galey again, on twitter: ''1) Just been leaked an internal British embassy memo: IDF informed UNIFIL of needing 2 cross beyond the technical fence 2 cut down bushes...
2) UNIFIL had relayed the message to the LAF. The LAF said they needed 24 hours notice before allowing the IDF to cross... 3) the IDF chose to cross anyway and were spotted by LAF patrol. Hence the incident."