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.