Fatal Encounters on the Israel/Lebanon Border

by MELANIE PHILLIPS August 5, 2010
On Tuesday, an Israeli reserve battalion commander, three Lebanese soldiers and one Lebanese journalist were killed when Lebanese forces opened fire on IDF soldiers performing routine maintenance work by the security fence near the border.
The Israelis were using a crane on their side of the border with Lebanon to remove a tree in order to improve the line of sight and thus prevent Hezbollah terrorists from hiding in the undergrowth and carrying out attacks or kidnapping. The routine work had been cleared in advance with UNIFIL. The Israelis did not cross the Lebanese border. This was confirmed at an early stage by UNIFIL. Ha’aretz also reported the Lebanese confirming they had fired first:
The Lebanese Army was first to open fire in the recent fatal border clash with Israel Defense Forces soldiers, a Lebanese source told the Lebanese newspaper A-Nahar on Wednesday.
So this was an unprovoked attack by Lebanese forces upon the Israelis, with the salient facts of the incident confirmed by UNIFIL yesterday.
Of course, it was not reported as such. Many if not most media outlets reported the incident merely as ‘Israeli claims versus Lebanese claims’, or even gave preference to the Lebanese claims. And as so often, it appears that much of this misleading reporting can be put down to misleading wire service reports, which routinely find their way into even staff-bylined news reports. 
As Honest Reporting has written:
As is so often the case in any incident involving Israel, official Israeli statements were ignored in favor of Lebanese accusations that the IDF had crossed into Lebanese territory, a theme taken up by wire services such as Reuters, which describes the crane being located on the Lebanese side of the border.’
Similarly, the Associated Press also wrongly stated the location for many hours after the incident before issuing a correction.
As Just Journalism has noted, while both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph acknowledged UNIFIL’s statement that the Israelis had not crossed the border, Robert Fisk’s story in the Independent was wildly slanted to the point of absurdity:
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 in which Just Journalism participated.
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’.
But much more disturbingly still, what were the media doing there in the first place when this incident happened? As soon as it became clear yesterday that pictures of the incident were circulating virtually as soon as it had happened, the blogosphere started buzzing with suspicions that the ambush had been a staged and co-ordinated media event  – something which also does not seem to have penetrated the consciousness of the mainstream media. Honest Reporting observes:
An AP report on the incident places Ronith Daher, a Lebanese journalist and the photographer of the above image, at the scene. Evidently, someone from Reuters was also there to take the previous image. But why were they there in the first place taking photographs before the incident even occurred?
 After all, pruning foliage is hardly headline news on an ordinary day unless something out of the ordinary was expected. UNIFIL and through it, the Lebanese Army, had been notified of the IDF's routine maintenance and even UNIFIL now admits that the Lebanese fire was unwarranted.
 Also according to AP, a Lebanese journalist with the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, Assaf Abu Rahhal, was killed when an Israeli shell landed next to him in the border village of Adeisseh. Al-Akhbar is reportedly associated with Hezbollah and has been denounced by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt as being funded by Syria and Iran. So what was Abu Rahhal doing in the area exposing himself to IDF counter-fire?
 A Reuters photographer was also on the scene in Adeisseh capturing the moments in the immediate aftermath of the IDF retaliation that led to the deaths of Abu Rahhal and three Lebanese soldiers. It is an open secret that parts of the Lebanese Army have been infiltrated by Hezbollah sympathisers and operatives. So information shared by Israel with UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army invariably finds its way to Hezbollah.
 Was this incident a staged and pre-planned ambush as evidenced by the presence of photographers and journalists even before the exchange of fire? Were these journalists there precisely because they had advance notice of a potential flashpoint?
In an interview this morning with Israeli Army Radio, Hungarian diplomat Milos Strugar, political adviser to the UNIFIL commander, said that the work carried out by the IDF along the border with Lebanon took place within Israeli territory and was coordinated ahead of time with the Lebanese army through UNIFIL.
But David Frankfurter observes that UNIFIL’s role in yesterday’s incident raises more questions than it answers:
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. Photographs and footage was prepared to be sent out within minutes before the truth surfaced, leaving an indelible media impression. It is also clear from the photographs that as the scene unfolds, until seconds before the actual firing takes place, the UNIFIL forces were relaxed and at ease with the snipers and RPG gunners taking careful aim at the Israelis.  Then something strange happens.  A video shown on Israeli TV, taken and directly translated to Hebrew from first footage gives the Lebanese version.  From about 5 seconds into the video, UNIFIL soldiers start waving and shouting at the Israelis to ‘stop’, ‘stop everything’, ‘get down’ and ‘go back’. Were they staging a show for the cameras?  Given that UNIFIL knew that the IDF was in Israeli territory and that there was no reason for the Lebanese to fire, why did they shout at the Israelis to stop?  Wouldn’t it have been their job to uphold UN resolutions and tell the Lebanese to hold their fire? 
Indeed. So why didn’t they? In an authoritative strategic analysis, Yosef Bodansky offers an uncomfortable answer to all these questions. For he suggests that this was not merely a Lebanese act of aggression with the connivance of UNIFIL but a Hezbollah operation:
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.
... 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.
About the strategic significance of these events and their possibly momentous consequences for the region and world peace, the western public is today -- thanks to the uselessness and worse of the mainstream media -- almost wholly ignorant.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Melanie Phillips is the author of the powerful and frightening "Londonistan" which can be purchased here and she blogs at The Spectator.

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