Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Trees Sans Frontières

Out of all the controversies in the Arab-Israeli conflict, this does not seem one of them. The August 3rd border incident led to the deaths of an IDF soldier, 3 Lebanese and 1 journalist.[1] The deaths of these people and the violence that ensued lies entirely with the LAF. It has been established the Israeli army were acting within their side of the Blue Line by both UNIFIL[2] and independent reports.[3]

The Lebanese then came up with an explanation for this finding. They “insisted the location of the trees was "south of the Blue Line but in Lebanese territory."[4] This isn’t a plausible explanation either because both sides agreed to the UN decision, despite the parties’ reservations.[5] Initially, several people claimed that Israel had crossed the border because of pictures showing servicemen over a fence. Yet, UNIFIL has already said that the fence does not follow the Blue Line (as has Israel).[6] The reason the fence does not follow the line is for tactical reasons – it allows the IDF to carry out counter-terrorist and surveillance measures. It doesn’t take long to work out that this is the case;

The fence follows the road below the Blue Line - you can see the bend in the road from the pictures of the crane in action.[7] What also seems apparent is that the IDF had informed UNIFIL that this works has being carried out.[8] It was carried out in co-ordination with UNIFIL.[9] UNIFIL had even asked them to delay twice.

Leaving aside that Israel has a right to do as it wishes on its side of the border, there are also claims that “warning shots” were fired (as though that should make a difference – it doesn’t for the simple fact that Israel was on its side of the border). The LAF were the first to shoot.[10] And the claim of warning shots has been denied by the IDF (one can either choose to believe the IDF or the LAF). The IDF claims that “such fire was not aimed at the soldiers located by the fence, but rather directly aimed at IDF officers who were standing in a separate area, on higher ground.[11] This seems to be confirmed by an independent report which states that

When the soldiers approached the tree, they were attacked by small arms automatic fire from both the Lebanese Army’s position.. 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[12]

And also from an unnamed diplomat;

Shortly after 12.15pm, when the Israelis moved a crane close to the border fence to begin removing the tree, a Lebanese army sniper took aim at the commanders who were supervising the operation from a hill on the Israeli side of the border. "The sniper was aiming for the most senior IDF officers present, not the person operating the crane where the alleged border infringement took place"[13]

But, as said, this is largely irrelevant to the fact that the LAF had no right to fire – warning or lethal – shots beyond the Blue Line. Some[14] have asked why Israel didn’t ask UNIFIL to carry out the pruning but this ignores the vital fact that a) it’s Israel’s side of the Blue Line and 2) that UNIFIL only has a mandate to act in Lebanese territory.[15] Questions however remain about whether this was a premeditated attack or not. Lebanon has confirmed that this is their policy.[16] The question of the reporters also remains. Media Backspin points out that “Five photographers, (in addition to an unknown number of stringers) from one news service covering what was supposed to be routine IDF border maintenance work is astounding.[17]

[3]The incident took place midday Tuesday while IDF troops were operating in a border-area enclave in Israeli territory.,7340,L-3929729,00.html

[5], without prejudice to the Sheeba Farms

[6] and “'It's a particular area where sometimes the Blue Line and the technical fence meet, and sometimes where there are metres in between”

[8]Struger: “IDF informed UNIFIL that they are going to do some work cutting the tree from the other side north of the technical fence but south of the blue line.” [Struger is the a Senior Political Advisor to the Commander of UNIFIL Forces]

[9]The operation had been coordinated in advance with UNIFIL, which in turn informed the Lebanese army.”

[15], translation provided by a friend: “UNIFIL warns the Lebanese army, that if it continued firing at IDF soldiers working on the border, it will risk having all of its positions in south Lebanon wiped out. The Lebanese army offered that UNIFIL, and not the IDF, cut down those trees, but UNIFIL refused, saying that it only has a mandate to act on Lebanese territory and not Israeli territory.” – this should really be an obvious point given that the L stands for Lebanon.

[17], one response is given by Frankfurter: “It is clear from the photographs and videos issued by international news agencies very quickly after the clash that the incident was prepared for and staged.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Cast Lead Ceasefire


The cease-fire applied to Gaza only.[1] The ceasefire also meant that they would “not be allowed to respond from Gaza to any Israeli action in the West Bank.”[2]

Partial opening of the borders

The easing the blockade was in two stages. First, Israel agreed to a partial opening of the borders. However, the extent to which this would be done was dependent on compliance. As Haaretz reported: “The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire requires militant groups to halt rocket fire in return for Israel gradually easing its blockade of the impoverished territory.[3] This seems to be confirmed by many other outlets. The BBC refers to a “partial” opening of the borders[4],The New York Times reported an “easing” of the blockade[5], CNN also refers to “gradually ease its economic blockade if the truce holds”[6], the Washington Post says a “The agreement would be implemented in phases, with Israel easing the year-old siege on Gaza if Hamas stops attacks”[7] and several other reports speak of this gradual policy.[8] Reports that the first stage included returning back to pre-coup supplies all stem from Hamas and are not confirmed by credible reports.[9] The second stage (which the parties never reached) would have been a deal involving Gilad Schalit and the Rafah crossing.[10]

Rocket fire

Israel’s primary goal of the ceasefire was the complete cessation of rockets. This included rockets from all groups. Israel was adamant that this be part of the agreement given that past ceasefires had often failed because smaller groups weren’t included. This ceasefire was designed to “stop rocket fire from Gaza” regardless of groups.[11] Israel actually said this to Hamas.[12] Hamas agreed to this.[13] In fact, Hamas said “all the area's militant groups would abide by the truce.”[14]

Raids and Smuggling

Israel agreed to stop incursions into Gaza but, like Hamas, reserved the right of self-defence.[15] However, there was a condition added to this. “The condition stated that if Hamas came within 500 metres of the border, they (the IDF) would attack...”[16] There seems to be no evidence that part of the ceasefire included the prohibition of arms smuggling on the part of Hamas. All reports refer to Israeli officials stating that it is part of the agreement.[17] What actually seems to be part of the agreement is Egypt to curb smuggling.[18] Hamas said two days after the truce that it did not include arms smuggling.[19] Given that the accounts from the BBC et al mention no such clause as part of the agreement, it will be assumed it doesn’t exist.

Implementation I: 18th June – 4th November

Rocket fire

Hamas did not comply with the agreement. Rockets were fired from Gaza on the 24th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 30th.[20] All in violation of the ceasefire (even if not fired by Hamas). Justification for the rocket fired on the 24th was a West Bank raid despite the fact that the West Bank was not included in the agreement. Hamas even condemned the attack.[21] There was a huge reduction in rocket-fire but the agreement did not call for a reduction but a cessation. In this first period, 20 rockets and 18 mortars were fired at Israel.[22]

It can be claimed that Hamas tried to curb the rocket fire during the period through arrests but investigations found that Hamas released those who fired rockets without charges.[23] In any event, Hamas is responsible by virtue of failing (even if it tried to) to stop all fire.[24]


Israel violated the ceasefire two days after it began by opening fire on Palestinians farmers and Palestinian fishers. Reuters reports 8 different violations by Israel between 20th-25th June.[25]


Given that nothing in the ceasefire stated exactly how much the borders would be lifted, it can be said that Israel did comply. There was an increase in the amount allowed through.[26] As stated, the easing of the blockade would be in relation to adherence to the ceasefire. Reports seem to confirm this is how Israel acted;

Israel had shut the crossings on June 25 after an Islamic Jihad rocket salvo which the Palestinian faction said was in retaliation for Israel's killing of one of its leaders in the West Bank.”

The defense establishment decided late Monday [30th] to close the border crossings between Israel and Gaza after Palestinian gunmen fired a Qassam rocket into the western Negev.”[27]

Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided Monday against renewing the fuel supply to the Gaza Strip, in view of the ongoing Qassam fire on Israel.”[28]

Israel, overall, increased goods shipments 25-30% and as the New York Times notes, “Israeli officials acknowledged that transferring previously banned goods had been the plan, but said that there was no specific date for the increase and that it was to happen in steps. But the rockets never fully stopped.”[29] If one reads the Goldstone Report, they would also find a similar chain of events: when a rocket or a mortar was fired, then the crossing would be closed.[30] Again, it should be noted that the rocket fire was a violation of the truce and in the case June 25th rocket was a response to Israeli action in the West Bank which was not covered by the ceasefire.

Implementation II: 4th November – 18th December

The conclusion here is that both sides broke the ceasefire in the first stage however none of these actions led to a complete abandoning of the ceasefire principles. Violations can be said to be distinct from complete disregard. The second stage sees a transition from both parties violating but sticking broadly to the agreement to a state in which there is essentially no adherence whatsoever. It must be noted that Israel’s violations in the first stage did not derive from matters which were linked with the blockade but with incursions. I have not seen any response or explanation from the Israeli government for this.

November 4th Incident

The incident which took place on November 4th resulted in a return to high levels of rockets and mortars. 6 Hamas men died.[31] This also led to Israel, like in the first stage to limit borders further (as the agreement had stipulated). It is this incident which would then be responsible for the breakdown of the ceasefire.

The Israeli NGO Malam states the following about the incident[32];

Following intelligence information, on the night of November 4 an IDF force operated inside the Gaza Strip. The action's objective was to prevent an abduction by Hamas of Israeli soldiers from Israeli soil. The IDF force operated near the security fence, about 250 meters.. The decision to carry out the strike was made after it was learned that a tunnel intended for the abduction of Israeli soldiers had become operative was ready for immediate use.

The soldiers located the building under which the tunnel had been excavated. When the soldiers reached it they discovered armed terrorists inside.[33]

This clearly violated the cease-fire. Hamas was not permitted to come within 500metres of the border and on this night, it did. This is not only confirmed in the Malam report but a BBC correspondent.[34] This is ignoring the purpose and use of the tunnel which they were digging. A picture is provided by Malam showing the position where the tunnel started[35];

Because of these killings, Hamas went into fire-mode. Throughout the rest of the ceasefire, Hamas fired rockets along with the other Palestinian armed groups. There were 203 rockets fired during the second stage of implementation.[36] Whereas in the first stage, Hamas can be said to guilty of negligence, in this stage they actively took part.[37] They even said on their website “Our response will be harsh, and the enemy will play a heavy price”[38] These rockets, again, led to the same course of action: restricting the borders.[39] They also led to air incursions which Israel justified by its reserved right of self-defence.[40]

End of the Ceasefire

The action which led to a complete deterioration of the ceasefire was action taken by Hamas. The first stage, while both sides violated the agreement did show broad agreement. However, in light of the events of the 4th November and Hamas’ response to Israel’s response, this adherence was destroyed. It must be noted that talk of who broke the ceasefire should remain strictly academic as it is not either sides violations, directly, which led to the end of the ceasefire. On December 13th, Israel said it was in favour of extending the ceasefire on the agreed principles.[41] Hamas declared the truce over when it said no the previous agreed conditions.[42] Haaretz states “Hamas..wants to renew the truce, but only on its own terms”.[43] Whereas before, Israel would decide border policy based on Palestinian rocket and mortor control, Hamas was now asking for Israel “keep the border crossings permanently open”.[44] Thus, the ceasefire was not renewed because of Hamas’ refusal.

[1]Hamas had initially lobbied for the truce to apply to both Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel balked at that idea and limited negotiations to Gaza.” - and

[8]An Egyptian official told The Associated Press that after three days, Israel would begin to open Gaza's border crossings to let more supplies into the area. A week later, he said, Israel planned to allow in additional goods.” -

[9] E.g.; and

Hamas thought it was going to get: a return to the 500 to 600 truckloads

In the same report, “Israeli officials acknowledged that transferring previously banned goods had been the plan, but said that there was no specific date for the increase and that it was to happen in steps. But the rockets never fully stopped.” – this is inline with reports from the BBC, NYT and CNN.

One report from Pierre Tristam stated that Israel agreed to a 30% increase in aid but this does not seem to be reliable as nobody else seems to have reported it.

[12] "We need a total ceasefire – all included. If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement.”,7340,L-3557573,00.html

[13]Hamas, which has pledged to enforce a tahdiyeh, Arabic for calm, on the disparate militia groups. and “Their job, the Hamas officials said, was to stop the rocket attacks on Israel not only from its own armed groups, but also from others based in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad and Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.”

[16] Testimony of Nomi Bar-Yaacov to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Wednesday 11 February available here and also Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Fifth Report of Session 2008–09, p.92

[17]He repeated Israel's demands for..a halt to arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip

[24] Those who accept HRW reports, “ However, throughout the ceasefire period other armed groups have continued to intermittently fire rockets from Gaza. As the governing authority in the Gaza Strip, it is your responsibility under international law to prevent such attacks, and to arrest and prosecute those who carry them out.” – they did not meet this requirement.

[32] See also the Goldstone Report at p.78: “The soldiers attacked a house in the Wadi al-Salqa village, east of Deir al-Balah, which was alleged to be the starting point of the tunnel, killing a member of the al-Qassam Brigades.

[34]The fighting broke out on Tuesday evening as Israeli tanks and a bulldozer moved 250m into the central part of the coastal enclave, backed by military aircraft, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Ramallah.

[35], p.83

[39] Malam notes that “During the first period of the lull Israel closed the crossings for short periods of time in response to attacks on its territory. In the last month and a half of the lull the crossings remained closed most of the time since there were constant attacks and more alerts. However, the crossings did open on occasion following appeals by international aid organizations regarding shortages in the Gaza Strip, but they were soon reclosed because of the continuing fire” (, p.84)

[40] Ibid, p.40

[44]Officials within Hamas said the Islamist group believes the lull should be extended, however there will likely be new conditions stipulated in the renewal of the agreement – namely that Israel must vow to keep the border crossings permanently open.”,7340,L-3637877,00.html