The Day In Israel: Wednesday Aug 4th, 2010

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IDF analysts believe that the Lebanese sniper fire at the Israel-Lebanon border on Tuesday was in fact an ambush planned by a Lebanese officer encouraged by his commanders.

Lebanese soldier
AP Photo/Ronith Daher

The exchange of fire began when Israeli soldiers approached the border in order to trim some bushes that had grown along the fence. The operation had been coordinated in advance with UNIFIL, which in turn informed the Lebanese army.

As in previous cases of such Israeli activity, the Lebanese army deployed soldiers to the area. After a round of yelling, unanswered by the Israeli troops, Lebanese snipers opened deliberate fire at the IDF observation post several hundred meters into Israel, the IDF said. Harari and Lakia had manned the observation post, and both sustained serious gunfire wounds.

According to information gathered by the IDF, the sniper fire was ordered by a commanding officer within the Lebanese army. The IDF has found no indication that the officer received an order to open fire, and believe that the decision was his alone. However, it is known that the particular officer was influenced by inciting remarks against Israel made by the top commanders of the Lebanese army in the recent past.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

11:22PM: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has issued the following statement following recent events.

10:40PM: Elvis Costello’s wife Diana Krall is performing in Israel as we speak, despite her husband’s much publicized d**** move.

8:34PM: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the  rocket attack on Eilat, and stated we will retaliate, following Egyptian confirmation of Hamas’ involvement.

6:15PM: Some in the mainstream media are recognizing – and reporting – that Gaza is not quite the concentration camp others would lead you to believe.

6:08PM: A few more examples of media bias from today.

IDF Lebanon
An Israeli soldier directs a mechanical grabber back to the site of an exchange of fire between Israeli and Lebanese troops along the border between Israel and Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. The Israeli military says it is uprooting more trees in the same area where its forces engaged in a deadly clash with Lebanese soldiers. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The words “The Israeli military says it is uprooting more trees in the same area where its forces engaged in a deadly clash with Lebanese soldiers” suggest the IDF initiated the fighting. Something like “where its forces were attacked by Lebanese soldiers” would be more accurate.

IDF Lebanon
Israeli soldiers use a mechanical grabber to cut trees in disputed land, claimed by both Israel and Lebanon near the southern village of Adaisseh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. The Israeli military said it would cut more trees Wednesday in the tense border area where Israel and Lebanon fought the most serious battle between the countries in four years, touched off by a dispute over a cypress tree. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

In this case, the AP caption writer refers to the area as “disputed land”, without any mention of the fact that it was within Israeli territory as recognized by the UN. Furthermore, the suggestion that the battle was triggered “by a dispute over a cypress tree” ignores the emerging evidence that this was a staged provocation.

3:55PM: Fisking Fisk.

And while it may be too early in Wednesday’s news cycle for other outlets to do the same, a comment piece by Robert Fisk in today’s Independent (‘Israel-Lebanon tensions flare after skirmish leaves four dead‘) stands out for its stark confusion of basic facts and its dismissal of contradictory evidence that was known well before his piece went to press.

Ignoring Israel’s claims that it had been operating within its own border, and had in fact coordinated its maintenance work with UNIFIL beforehand, Fisk states simply that, ‘No one is exactly sure where the Israeli-Lebanese border is.’ UNIFIL’s statement today would be meaningless if this were the case. Even whilst clarifying that the Blue Line does not necessarily run along the technical fence, Fisk observes only that, ‘from the Lebanese perspective’, the ‘technical fence’ is behind the border.

Fisk also cites the Lebanese narrative that had the LAF ‘open[ing] fire into the air’ when the IDF crossed the fence, precipitating Israelis return of fire targeting Lebanese troops. According to Fisk, it was only after Israel had killed three LAF soldiers and a Lebanese journalist that the LAF ‘on orders from Beirut, fired back and killed an Israeli lieutenant-colonel.’

At no point does Fisk present the Israeli sequence of events that was widely circulated yesterday and as described by IDF Lt Col Avital Leibovich in a conference call to which Just Journalism was privy:

When asked about the LAF’s claim that its forces first fired into the air, then at Israeli troops, Leibovich responded that it was not the Israeli maintenance crew itself that was first targeted by gunfire, but rather a gathering of senior IDF commanders who were standing nearby, a clear sign, she maintained, of a Lebanese ‘provocation’.

Instead, Fisk writes suggestively that ‘Israel said the whole thing was a misunderstanding’, a claim clearly contradicted by Leibovich’s insistence that ‘we put responsibility [for the violence] on the Lebanese Armed Forces’.

Fisk’s formulation also implies that Israel had adopted a non-judgmental tone in accounting for yesterday’s violence, if not hinted at its own potential wrongdoing. However, as statements by Leibovich and other Israeli spokespersons demonstrate, at no point and in no way had Israel done so.

3:50PM: Here’s the audio of the Israel Army Radio’s interview with UNIFIL Spokesman Milos Struger (via IDF Spox).

2:15PM: Here’s a detailed account of yesterday’s clash which draws on some of the issues I have raised.

The August 3, 2010, armed clash along the Israeli-Lebanese border was a significant strategic incident.

On Thursday, July 29, 2010, Israel notified UNIFIL that a few Israeli soldiers would be crossing the security fence in order to cut a tree and remove a few shrubs in Israeli territory but near the Blue Line (the actual border between Israel and Lebanon). This foliage blocks the view of Israeli security cameras positioned deep inside Israel. Israel also notified UNIFIL that these soldiers would be escorted by a small patrol which would stay south of the security fence.

The Israeli notification was in accordance with UNSC resolution 1701. UNIFIL then informed the nearby positions of the Lebanese Armed Forces about the planned Israeli activities in order to ensure that there was no misunderstanding. The Lebanese Army notified the local HizbAllah force.

Significantly, the Lebanese Army unit deployed along the border with Israel is the 9th Division, whose commanders and troops are Shi’ites and recruited from the same manpower pool as the HizbAllah.

Around 10:30am on August 3, 2010, about 10 Israeli soldiers with saws crossed the gate in the security fence on foot. This detachment was covered by an Israeli patrol which included a few tanks, armored vehicles, and a command vehicle. As UNIFIL had been informed, the patrol stayed 200-300 meters south of the fence.

When the soldiers approached the tree, they were attacked by small arms automatic fire from both the Lebanese Army’s position just across the border and “civilians” (HizbAllah fighters) in the nearby village of Adissyeh.

Immediately, a few Israeli commanders ran from the command vehicle toward the fence to see what was happening. Snipers hiding in the bush adjacent to the Lebanese Army position fired on them, killing the Israeli battalion commander (a lieutenant-colonel) and critically wounding the company commander (a captain). The sniper fire came from a professional ambush that had been organized on the basis of the advance warning provided by UNIFIL.

Meanwhile, the shooting at the Israeli soldiers north of the fence intensified. Israeli forces opened small-arms and mortar fire on the sources of fire in the Lebanese Army position and in a couple of unfinished houses in Adissyeh. Two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier moved forward toward the fence in order to evacuate the stranded soldiers. At this point a UNIFIL patrol arrived on the scene and the UN officers urged both sides to ceasefire. The firing stopped a few minutes later.

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Escorted by the UN patrol, the two Israeli tanks and the armored personnel carrier continued to advance toward the gate in the fence in order to evacuate the soldiers. Suddenly an anti-tank missile was fired from either the Lebanese Army position or the bush immediately near it. The missile barely missed the UNIFIL vehicle and the tanks. The Israeli tanks opened fire on the missile launcher.

Major activity followed. Intense fire — small arms, heavy machineguns, mortars, and RPGs — was opened from both several Lebanese Army positions as well as HizbAllah positions in Adissyeh. Israel rushed additional tanks and artillery to the area and started bombarding all Lebanese positions. One or two Katyusha rockets were launched toward Israel, impacted in open space and caused no damage.

A pair of Israeli combat helicopters arrived on the scene. They attacked the main Lebanese Army position near Adissyeh, and subsequently the Lebanese Army battalion headquarters in the village of Al-Taybeh. The helicopters also attacked and destroyed several Lebanese Army armored vehicles which were parked near the headquarters. Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist (from the pro-HizbAllah newspaper Al-Akhbar) who was with the troops in Al-Taybeh were killed. Another soldier was killed in the position near Adissyeh. A total of five to six soldiers were wounded. There is no reliable information about HizbAllah casualties.

The fire subsided after little over two and a half hours.

This was a very serious incident for two reasons:

1. The incident started as a pre-planned pre-meditated provocation against the Israeli patrol on the basis of information provided via UNIFIL. The mere invitation by the Army of the Al-Akhbar correspondent to cover the clash suggests that this was a pre-planned incident. The incident was conducted jointly by Lebanese Army forces and HizbAllah forces, proving that the close cooperation which HizbAllah leader Hassan Nasrallah had boasted about repeatedly is indeed working (at least with the Army’s Shi’ite units such as the 9th Division).

2. Earlier, on Monday, August 2, 2010, HizbAllah and Iranian media warned that the Israeli cabinet had considered “the prospects of an upcoming war on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gaza fronts in anticipation of tensions on the Lebanese domestic scene” because of the impending indictment of senior HizbAllah officials by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The HizbAllah, Syria, and Iran are calling on all Lebanese to ignore the STL and instead rally and close ranks behind the “Resistance” in order to confront the Israeli threat. Under these circumstances, the incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border should be considered a made-to-order “proof” of the HizbAllah and Iranian warnings.

Indeed, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman denounced the fighting and urged the Army and all Lebanese to “stand up to Israel’s violation of Resolution 1701, whatever the price”. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad stated that the “Israeli attack proves once again that Israel is constantly working to destabilize security in Lebanon and the region. Syria stresses that it is standing by its sister Lebanon in the face of the criminal Israeli aggression and calls on the UN to condemn and stop this aggression.”

However, the main event in the aftermath of the clash is an anticipated major speech by Hassan Nasrallah. The speech was scheduled for 20:30 on August 3, 2010 (Lebanon time), but its exact time was being constantly changed. Senior HizbAllah officials predict that Nasrallah’s speech “will mark a turning point” for Lebanon and the entire Middle East. They explained that Nasrallah would “focus on the national and Islamic dimension of the July [2006] war” and its implications for the current situation in the entire region. Nasrallah’s speech, the Senior HizbAllah officials stress, “will mainly be devoted to talk about the meaning of victory against Israel” in both past wars and in the historic confrontation still to come.

Given the above, the August 2, 2010, rocket firing from southern Sinai of Aqaba, Eilat, and a base of the US-led Multinational Force & Observers Organization in Sinai might also be part of this kind of made-to-order “proof” of Israeli aggression. Significantly, the six 122mm GRAD rockets fired from Sinai were made in Iran or North Korea, strongly suggesting that the perpetrators were Iran-sponsored main group rather than a Palestinian fringe entity.

11:26AM: If true, this would answer my question below: Why was this (yesterday’s clash and it’s lead-up) all meticulously filmed?

Journalists and photographers were briefed in advance of the intention to ambush IDF troops and were therefore present at the site of Tuesday’s deadly clash between Israeli and Lebanese forces, IDF officials charge.

The lethal skirmish ensued after IDF forces performing routine operations in a border-area enclave came under Lebanese fire. The Israeli troops fired back, killing three Lebanese soldiers and a local journalist.

The killed correspondent, Assaf Abu Rahal, worked for Hezbollah-affiliated Beirut daily al-Akhbar.

Another journalist, Ali Shuaib from Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, was wounded in the incident and was taken to hospital for treatment.

IDF officials raised questions about the presence of journalists and even broadcast trucks at the scene even before the clash ensued, charging this further reinforces suspicions that the incident was a well-planned Lebanese ambush.

“If this incident was not planned in advance, why did field commanders in the Lebanese army bother to dispatch journalists to the area and ensure that cameras were present at the site?” one IDF official said.

11:20AM: Lebanon has admitted its army fired first.

In a statement issued to AFP and quoted by Lebanese daily al-Nahar Wednesday, the spokesman said that “the Lebanese Army opened fire first at Israeli soldiers who entered Lebanese territory…this constituted defense of our sovereignty and is an absolute right.”

You’ve seen the video. You’ve seen the map. You’ve seen the statements of the UNIFIL official. Do the Lebanese take us for fools?

11:16AM: BBC debate on the topic “Are we too critical of Israel?”

10:05AM: A UNIFIL official has confirmed the IDF did not cross the border into Lebanon.

Israel Defense Forces did not cross the border with Lebanon before the deadly clash between Israeli and Lebanese forces, a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) official told Army Radio on Wednesday, adding that the UN force had been dealing with complaints of Lebanese provocations on a daily basis.

—-

Milos Strugar, UNIFIL’s senior political adviser said that the IDF had “informed UNIFIL that it was going to conduct maintenance works” on the border, adding that while the Israeli unit had been “on the northern side of the border fence,” it was nonetheless “south of the international borderline.”

However, the UNIFIL official added that the information he had was “preliminary,” adding that he will look into the evidence “more thoroughly” later in the day.

“The situation became tense right away, with the Lebanon army also being there,” Strugar said, adding that UNIFIL forces had tried “to calm the situation and allow the IDF to work.”

Asserting the IDF’s claim that it had informed the Lebanese side of the planned border works, Strugar said that UNIFIL had received a message from the IDF “regarding these works, and we had passed that on to the Lebanese army.”

“We deal with complaints on provocations of Lebanese soldiers against IDF units on a daily basis, Strugar told Army Radio, adding incidents occur “almost every day, there’s a lot of tension round the border, but what happened is the worst incident since 2006

Meanwhile, more details of yesterday’s events:

The incident began at about 8 A.M. Tuesday, when IDF Northern Command informed UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, that it planned to clear vegetation along the border fence that was disrupting its soldiers’ line of sight – an operation the IDF termed “routine maintenance,” of the type it performs regularly.

UNIFIL asked the IDF to delay the operation on the grounds that the force’s commander was then in New York. But the IDF did not see this as valid grounds for delay, so at 10:30 A.M. the work began.

UNIFIL, as is the norm, had informed the Lebanese Army of the planned operation, and a Lebanese force was sent to observe from its side of the border. Some of the Lebanese troops began cursing the IDF soldiers and shouting at them to leave, but the Israelis did not respond.

A few minutes later, at about 12:10 P.M., the IDF battalion and company commanders – who were supervising the truck’s work from a lookout post about 100 meters away – suddenly came under sniper fire from a house east of the Lebanese village of Adeisa. Harari, the battalion commander, was hit in the head and Capt. Ezra Lakiya, the company commander, in the chest. Lakiya is now being treated at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

The IDF said such an ambush would probably have been prepared two or three hours in advance.

In response, the IDF soldiers and an IDF tank opened fire, and the Lebanese soldiers fled. An IDF artillery battery then targeted three nearby Lebanese Army outposts.

At that point, UNIFIL asked the IDF to cease its fire so the wounded could be evacuated, and at 1:20 P.M., the IDF complied.

At about 2 P.M., however, Lebanese soldiers fired four rocket-propelled grenades at an IDF tank. They missed their target, but the IDF responded: A helicopter fired several missiles at a Lebanese Army battalion headquarters deeper inside Lebanon.

This does not explain why UNIFIL were shouting for the IDF to stop as we saw in the video I posted earlier, unless it was UNIFIL asking the IDF to stop firing as described above. But there are a number of problems with that:

  • We do not hear the IDF firing at the time.
  • In the video, the instructions to stop occur before the firing
  • UNIFIL also tells the IDF “Down!”, which does not make sense in the context of firing. Neither does their body language (surely they would be moving for cover), nor the nonchalance of the Lebanese soldiers next to them

7:38AM: Interesting new (unconfirmed) details of yesterday’s clashes have emerged which, if true, suggest yesterday was a Hizbullah-coordinated assault/staged provocation (possibly designed to divert attention from the Hariri probe as previously suggested):

  • A Katyusha rocket was reportedly fired into northern Israeli. (You may recall I posted about reports of a Katusha yesterday in the 1:40PM update)
  • A Katushya was ready for firing on a truck in Lebanon
  • Many of the Lebanese forces at the border, in particularly the Division 9 Lebanese Army border patrol, consist of Shiite Muslims, believed to be loyal to Hezbollah.

7:18AM: Israel has sent messages through third parties to both Syria and Lebanon not to allow any party to try and divert attention by provoking us.

Meanwhile, there are those who think the “deliberate ambush” may have been designed to divert attention from the Hariri probe.

Which is interesting, given yesterday’s statements by Hassan Nasrallah, in which he blamed Israel for killing Hariri (although Hizbullah were not ostensibly involved in yesterday’s attack, they are in cahoots with the Lebanese army).

7:10AM: Now that I have slept and re-watched the previous video, I have the following questions:

  • Why were the UNIFIL soldiers telling the IDF to stop (presumably to stop cutting down the tree), if this was all coordinated in advance and the IDF was within Israeli territory? (which has subsequently been confirmed by UNIFIL)
  • At the 11 second mark of the video, why does the UNIFIL soldier give a thumbs up before seeming to join the “stop” chorus?
  • Why was this all meticulously filmed?
  • Why do the Lebanese “warning shots” (as they claim they were) sound like machine gun fire?

12:44AM: Video of the attack starting.

12:38AM: For those of you who think all Hizbullah terrorist supporters are necessarily fugly beardos (male and female alike).

hot Hizbullah supporter

Damn!

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