Israel threatens to destroy hostile Lebanese border positions
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report August 5, 2010
Israel has handed Lebanon an ultimatum. Before a line can be drawn on the Lebanese-Israeli clash which flared Tuesday, Aug. 3, the Lebanese Army 9th Brigade commander responsible for sending snipers to shoot at Israeli troops clearing brush on their side of the border and killing Lt. Col. (Res.) Dov Harari, must be dismissed or court-martialed, debkafile's military sources report.
This burst of Lebanese sniper fire triggered the clash.
The ultimatum was delivered at a three-way meeting at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqura on Wednesday night, August 4, attended by UN, IDF and Lebanese Army officers, after Israel learned that the guilty Lebanese officer is a Shiite who hangs out with Hizballah commanders in South Lebanon. The possibility is not precluded that his Hizballah friends tipped him off to the presence of high Israeli officers within firing distance from the Lebanese border.
This information runs contrary to the IDF's official line on the incident, which absolved Hizballah of involvement in the clash and claimed the Shiite terrorists were taken by surprise no less than the Israeli military
UNIFIL carried a warning to Beirut that if the Lebanese army failed to punish the officer, Israel would deem it an enemy force and feel free to destroy its military positions along their border.
Our military sources reveal that the Naqura conference was also attended unofficially by the American, French and German military attachés stationed at their embassies in Beirut. They were sent to apply the brakes on any further escalation of the Israeli-Lebanese military showdown.
A UNIFIL spokesman announced early Thursday morning, August 5 that Israel and Lebanon had both pledged to work with the UN to avoid violent incidents in the future. However, on the quiet, our sources report the UN peacekeepers agreed to convey the Israeli ultimatum and warning to Beirut with their own recommendation to remove the Lebanese officer responsible for the outbreak from the South in the interests of restoring calm.
The ultimatum did not give the Lebanese army a deadline for punishing the officer or say what action Israel would take if it was not met, but the Israeli officers at Naqura presented a tough and unyielding front. Jerusalem will not let the death of a high officer go unpunished.
The Lebanese high command and Hizballah were reminded of Israel's reprisal Saturday Aug. 1 against Hamas, for firing a Grad missile at Ashkelon on July 30: Israeli Air Force bombers struck a number of targets across the Gaza Strip, one of which killed the high-ranking Hamas commander, Issa Batran, commander of the organization's missile batteries.
It was to avenge his death that Hamas' military wing, Izzedin al-Qassam, launched half a dozen Grad missiles from Sinai against Eilat on Monday, August 2. (In the event, they missed their aim and hit Aqaba, killing one Jordanian.)
Far from winding down the Lebanese-Israel border crisis, the Israeli ultimatum looks more like the opening move for the next round. The Beirut government is not expected in Jerusalem, Washington or Naqura to punish the Shiite 9th Brigade officer lest Hizballah throw its weight behind him and canonize him as a national Shiite hero. Israel will then feel free to exercise its options for the Lebanese act of aggression.
The state of play between Israel and Lebanon was described by high Israeli military sources Thursday, Aug. 5, as fluid and incendiary. A single tree or rocket could blow up into a major conflagration and spread across the Middle East.
Time is rushing toward another flashpoint: Hizballah's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has threatened to pass the buck for the five-year old assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to Israel to ease the pressure of guilt preying on his own organization. He promises to present "proof" of Israeli secret service complicity at a press conference on Monday, August 9.
Western military and intelligence circles in the Middle East agreed Thursday that Israel cannot afford to let a second casus belli from Lebanon go unanswered after the unprovoked death of its officer.
A tense Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set the scene Thursday night with his first ever videotaped speech that was broadcast on three Israeli TV channels.
He held Hamas and the Lebanese government responsible for three cross-border attacks in as many days. While the third was staged by Lebanon, Netanyahu placed the Grad attacks on Ashkelon and Eilat squarely at the door of the Palestinian Hamas.
He made it clear that Israel would make both answerable when he said: "Don’t test our resolve to defend our citizens."