Agence France-Pressey & – 2006-08-22 01:11:15
Israel Defiant on Lebanon Raid, Prepares for ‘Next Round’
Yana Dlugy / Agence France Presse
(August 20, 2006) — Israel warned that it would keep up raids against Hezbollah to prevent the Shiite militia from getting weapons from abroad and said it would prepare for the “next round” of war. Israel also said that it would not allow the Lebanese army to fully deploy along the volatile Israeli-Lebanese border until the arrival of an international force in the area.
“We need to thwart any attempt to pass weapons from Syria to Hezbollah,” Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai said before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday.
“Any such activity needs a counter measure,” he said, referring to a Saturday commando raid by Israeli troops in eastern Lebanon, which Israel said was aimed at preventing alleged arms smuggling to Hezbollah from Syria.
Lebanon and the United Nations slammed the raid as a violation of the UN-brokered cease-fire which took effect last Monday to end 34 days of warfare, but Israeli officials remained defiant.
“We have not violated UN resolution 1701,” said Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, a member of the security cabinet.
“The resolution has very clear directives on limiting the transfer of weapons from Syria and Iran into Lebanon. The directives speak of a full embargo. As long as it is not enforced, we have the full right to act against it.”
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said the Jewish state would examine mistakes that it made during the Lebanon war in preparation for the “next round” of war.
“We will examine the issues that have been pointed out as failures,” he told the cabinet meeting. “We will put everything on the table. Our duty is to prepare for the next round,” he said without elaborating.
The Israeli raid near the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek was the first major operation since the UN ceasefire took hold on the ground. An Israeli officer was killed in the raid.
“It is the Lebanese who are to be blamed for allowing the weapons transfer… The one responsible is (Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad) Siniora. We should give him an ultimatum — either he stops the weapons transfer or we target his infrastructure,” Yishai said.
Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, a hardliner who like Herzog and Yishai is a member of Israel’s security cabinet, echoed the statements.
“The Lebanese are yet to carry out the resolution and are saying that Hezbollah will not be disarmed and that it can hide weapons. What are we supposed to do? Sit idly and wait for Hezbollah to rearm?”
UN Resolution 1701 calls, among other demands, for Hezbollah to disarm, something that the Shiite militant group has so far refused to do, maintaining its right to fight as long as Israeli troops are in Lebanon.
Israeli intelligence estimates that Hezbollah had up to 13,000 rockets before the start of the Lebanon war, with more than 4,000 fired by the Shiite militia into Israel during the offensive.
Israel accuses Syria and Iran of providing Hezbollah with weapons, a charge denied by both countries which say they offer moral support only.
Israel has said that many of the weapons, including the anti-tank missiles that proved devastating to the Jewish state’s military during the offensive, had come from Russia, a charge that the Kremlin has denied.
A report in Israel’s second-largest Maariv daily on Sunday said that during a recent visit to Moscow, Israeli officials showed Russians documents that allegedly prove that Russian arms exports destined for the Syrian army were ending up in Hezbollah’s hands.
An Israeli foreign ministry official meanwhile urged France to reconsider its decision to limit its participation in a UN force in Lebanon to 200 soldiers, which sparked “astonishment and confusion” in the Jewish state.
“We hope that France has not said its last word,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “If not, its decision cannot but contribute to bring us a step back, with the rearming of Hezbollah, which will wait for an opportune moment to restart its hostilities.”
France had joined the United States in crafting the UN resolution and as Lebanon’s former colonial power was expected to take the lead in putting together a robust international force of up to 15,000 to boost the current UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse
Hezbollah Warned Not to Violate Truce
(August 20, 2006) — The Lebanese government, in an unprecedented move, has warned Hezbollah against violating the UN-brokered truce. In an implicit warning to the militia, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, said on Sunday that anyone who violated a cease-fire deal by firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon would be arrested and tried by a military court.
“Any violation … any rocket that would give Israel a justification [to hit Lebanon] will be treated harshly,” Murr told a press conference. “It will be considered as direct collaboration with the enemy,” Murr said, adding that those responsible “will be tried and referred to a military tribunal”.
Meanwhile, about 150 French troops departed France on Sunday bound for Lebanon where they are to reinforce UN peacekeepers charged with preventing further conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
Maritime officials said the troops set sail from the southern port of Toulon, and would arrive in Lebanon on Thursday or Friday to join an advance element of 50 French soldiers who landed there on Saturday.
The troops are military engineers whose job will include repairing roads damaged by bombardments and clearing unexploded bombs and mines.
France has sent engineers to repair roads damaged in the warThey are to be deployed “close to the Israeli border”, their commander, Colonel Christophe Issac, said.
“Our mission, which still has some details to be defined, will be to support Unifil (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon) and Lebanese army as they redeploy in the area of southern Lebanon,” he said.
Another soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Laurent Romeur, said their mission should last “two to four months, but we are preparing to stay another two months beyond that”.
The deployment is far below what was expected from France when it co-wrote a UN Resolution 1701 with the United States calling for a combat-ready UN force of up to 15,000 troops to bring peace to southern Lebanon.
That resolution, passed unanimously just over a week ago, led to a cease-fire and the withdrawal of most of Israel’s forces after 34 days of war with Hezbollah Shia Muslim guerrillas.
France had been expected to offer 2,500 to 4,000 soldiers to the force, but Jacques Chirac, the French president, has made a preliminary offer of just 200 troops while leaving open the option of sending more.
In the meantime, Chirac has sought to muster contributions from countries such as Italy and Turkey while seeking to clarify the UN force’s mandate and rules of engagement before committing any more troops.
France is particularly unhappy that the UN mandate allows Unifil to use force only in circumstances of direct self-defence, and not to enforce the resolution as it had sought.
A senior Israeli foreign ministry official told AFP on Sunday that France’s meagre initial contribution had “provoked astonishment and confusion” in Israel, which is concerned that Hezbollah will re-arm as the UN dithers.
“France talked about the possibility of sending several thousand soldiers who were due to constitute the backbone of the international force in Lebanon… We are quite far from this,” the official said.
George Bush, the US president, has noted that “there have been different signals coming out of France”. European newspapers have said France has “lost its nerve” and is “afraid” of getting sucked into an intractable conflict. The US is not contributing any troops to the Unifil.
Resolution 1701 calls for Israeli troops to withdraw from southern Lebanon in tandem with the arrival of Lebanese troops to the Hezbollah heartland and a beefed-up UN force.
Unifil was supposed to add 3,500 troops to its existing 2,000-strong force within 10 days as Israel pulls back from areas it occupied in its devastating month-long offensive.
UNIFIL Troops Permitted to Open Fire on Armed Hezbollah Militants
Shlomo Shamir and Yoav Stern / Haaretz and News Agencies
(August 20, 2006) — United Nations troops in south Lebanon are authorized to open fire on armed Hezbollah men, a UN spokesman indicated Sunday evening.
The UN spokesman said that if the international troops encounter armed individuals who refuse to lay down their weapons, they are permitted to use force.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday told his Italian counterpart, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, that he wishes to see Italy lead the contingent of foreign soldiers which would comprise the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
In a telephone conversation between the two leaders, Olmert also requested that Rome dispatch troops to serve as border inspectors to be stationed at crossing points between Syria and Lebanon.
The Italian premier said that his government plans to send a significant number of soldiers to Lebanon, adding that he intends to pass the matter along for discussion in the Italian parliament as soon as possible.
Olmert said it was vital for the international force to arrive in the region within as short a timeframe as is feasible. Both premiers agreed that the issue must be given high priority.
“If UN headquarters asks us to lead the force, we won’t refuse even if we are not asking [to lead the force],” Pierro Pasino, the leader of the largest party in Prodi’s governing coalition, told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.
Pasino noted that Italy is geographically situated near the Middle East, and that “a large nation like Italy can’t evade its responsibility.”
“It may well be that Italy will be ready to take France’s place as the leader of the UN force in southern Lebanon,” Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has criticized European member states for failing to send troops to expand the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as mandated under Resolution 1701.
While states such as Bangladesh and Nepal are already committed to sending troops, the leading European countries with the best-equipped armies and logistics operations have been slow to respond to Annan’s urgent pleas for personnel.
Saturday’s IDF commando raid near Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, purportedly to prevent arms deliveries to Hezbollah, is not expected to make the UNIFIL recruitment operation any easier.
Annan also criticized the raid, accusing Israel of violating the terms of UN cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.
Aides to Annan envision a three-stage scenario for recruiting reinforcement for UNIFIL, to be completed within 10 to 12 weeks.
In the first stage, efforts will be made to send a contingent of 3,500 soldiers to southern Lebanon by August 28. A month later, a few thousand more troops will be sent, and by late October the full complement of 15,000 should be deployed.
In the first report on the cease-fire he submitted to the Security Council, Annan said Friday that UNIFIL would not wage war against Israel, Lebanon or Hezbollah. He reiterated his request that member states provide “desperately needed soldiers” for the UN peace force.
“It is not expected to achieve by force what must be realized through negotiation and an internal Lebanese consensus,” Annan told the Security Council.
UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, who is in charge of recruiting reinforcements to UNIFIL, emphasized the force’s policing mandate.
“It is not an offensive force,” Brown said. “It’s not going to go in there and attempt large-scale disarmament. Rather it is going to police the political agreement that triggers disarmament, called for under the resolution, and therefore it will make a prudent use of force.”
The Lebanese Army continued Saturday to redeploy along the country’s border with Israel. Brigade 10 reached villages close to the Israeli border in the west, including Shaba and Al-Hiam. Approximately three battalions were deployed along Lebanon’s northern border with Syria in an effort to prevent cross-border smuggling.
The redeployments are coordinated with UNIFIL and with the Israel Defense Forces. By arrangement, the IDF is withdrawing from areas where UNIFIL is deployed, with the Lebanese Army taking over afterward. There were reports over the weekend of IDF forces penetrating a few kilometers into Lebanese territory, where they arrested a young Lebanese man and raided the home of a religious leader.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a report Saturday, based on sources close to senior Lebanese Army officials, that the army has agreed with Hezbollah that any weapons the militia displays in public would be confiscated. The army does not intend to raid homes to search for arms, however.
“The army knows there is a gun in every household, they are not going to go out and look for them … What we are concerned about is the launchers. There is an agreement with Hezbollah that any weapons found will be handed over,” retired general Nizar Abdel-Kader, a former deputy chief of staff for army personnel who is in close communication with the army command, told the Guardian.
According to reports at UN headquarters, Italy has promised to send a large number of troops to UNIFIL. France, meanwhile, was roundly criticized on Friday for backing out its commitment of troops to the force
Senior IDF Officers: Hezbollah Hostilities Liable to Restart Soon
Amos Harel / Haaretz
(August 21, 2006) — Members of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff say that “round two” between Israel and Hezbollah could begin within months or even weeks, probably over the renewal of arms deliveries to the organization from Iran and Syria.
One senior officer told Haaretz on Sunday that throughout the month-long war with Hezbollah, Iran and Syria attempted to smuggle large quantities of weapons to Lebanon. He said that the efforts were stepped up over the past week, following the cease-fire and the end of Israel Air Force sorties deep in Lebanese territory.
The officer noted that while UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for an embargo on arms shipments to Hezbollah, no mechanism has been put in place to enforce this embargo, and said that Israel will have to intervene if the deliveries continue unchecked.
Specifically, the military source said, Israel will be forced to carry out aerial assaults on trucks traveling from Syria to Lebanon if they can be determined to contain arms shipments. Otherwise, he said, Hezbollah would renew long-range rocket attacks on Israel within a matter of months.
“If we know that a truck is carrying arms, we’ll strike,” he said. “There is simply no alternative.”
He confirmed that the IDF was aware that such action could lead to new Katyusha attacks on communities in northern Israel.
“We presented this assessment to the government, too,” he said.
The army hopes that an enforcement mechanism can be activated within a few weeks to reduce the likelihood of weapons making their way into southern Lebanon.
Despite Hezbollah’s refusal to give up its arms, IDF officers believe that Resolution 1701 can be implemented, at least partially.
In some parts of south Lebanon, the organization has instructed its militants not to appear in public with weapons.
IDF officers pointed with satisfaction to the fact that the new resolution places responsibility for events in southern Lebanon squarely at the feet of the Beirut government, and also creates international obligations toward Israel.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers remain in southern Lebanon. Five brigades of the regular army are deployed on the ground, though at somewhat below their full strength.
The eastern sector has been evacuated, with the exception of the Hamamis hill, near Metula. A Lebanese Army brigade has already set up headquarters near Marjayoun, in an area that was used by the Lebanese gendarmerie before the war. The IDF’s Nahal Brigade controls the Taibeh area, Armored Corps Brigade 188 has the area south of Nahal, Armored Corps Brigade 7 has claimed the Maroun al-Ras area, the Golani Brigade is deployed north of Bint Jbail and the Paratroops is in control of the western sector.
If the deployment of the Lebanese Army goes according to schedule, IDF officers believe that the Israeli forces can be withdrawn to within a kilometer or two of the northern border in ten days or so.