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But this time it’s between France and Israel


By Richard Walker

After French troops in southern Lebanon almost shot down an Israeli fighter jet that was diving toward them on Nov. 17, France warned the Israeli ambassador that Israel was constantly breaking the UN-brokered ceasefire by operating over-flights in the south and in other regions.

The Israelis at first claimed the incident had not happened and pointed out they did not have a policy of authorizing flyovers. Later, under pressure from the French, who are leading the UN mission (UNIFIL) in Lebanon, an Israeli government spokesman admitted there had been an incident but downplayed it, saying it was misunderstood.

The French government was unhappy with the way Israel dismissed the episode and summoned the Israeli ambassador in France, Daniel Shek, to a meeting at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. Once there, he was told by the French foreign minister, Michele Aliot-Marie, that French troops in Lebanon were within seconds of firing an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli jet that dived at them in a simulated attack.

French troops held their fire, said Aliot-Marie, but it could occur again if Israel did not stop breaking Security Council Resolution 1701, which not only led to the ceasefire in Lebanon but also gave UN troops the authority to deal with any aggressor, whether it was Hezbollah, or the Israeli military.

In effect, French troops have the right to defend themselves and to use whatever force necessary to ensure the integrity of the ceasefire agreement.

Officially, the Israeli ambassador responded that the over-flight in question was non-aggressive and misunderstood. However, the French were so dismayed with that response they deployed UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, similar to the CIA’s Predator drones. They will be used to gather intelligence and to keep watch on southern Lebanon, in particular the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Israel has frequently argued that Hezbollah has been moving arms across the border to restock weapons dumps lost during the war. Those were some of the claims the Israeli military made to publicly defend its air and ground incursions when it launched its brutal offensive against the Lebanese.
While the French command in the UN peacekeeping force intends to use the UAVs to watch Hezbollah, it has pointed out to Tel Aviv that they will also register any Israeli incursions, which will be reported to the UN Security Council. From the perspective of the UN peacekeeping force, Israel has no grounds for justifying surveillance flights or for sending covert units into parts of Lebanon, which it is reportedly doing in violation of the ceasefire.

The Israeli military, which believes French UAVs are no match for its aerial surveillance capability, has complained about the UN surveillance plan. Senior Israeli military figures were

recently dispatched to Paris to make that point but their arguments fell on deaf ears.

Since their return to Israel, they leaked to journalists that the French deployment of drones has nothing to do with the UN mandate and more to do with business. A number of militant newspapers, like The Jerusalem Post, immediately parroted this claim.

According to the Israelis, the French defense industry, with a keen eye on the global security market, intends to use the situation in Lebanon to show that its UAVs are as good, if not better, than the high-tech surveillance equipment Israel makes itself, or gets from the United States.

Unfortunately, many observers predict that the monitoring effort by the UN will have little impact on Israel’s incursions into Lebanon, and things are not expected to change much when Italians take command of UN peacekeeping in February.

Israel has made it clear that the UN mandate is not binding on it because Hezbollah still holds two captured Israeli soldiers and continues to bring weapons and supplies into the country from Syria.

On the other hand, Hezbollah believes Israel suffered such a crushing defeat during the recent conflict that is will have to invade again in order to
save face.

Most military experts agree that Israel arrogantly believed the destruction of Hezbollah could be achieved within days rather than weeks. When it was clear the enemy was no pushover, the United States and Britain encouraged Israel to launch a major ground assault and a “shock and awe” air campaign.

But far from crushing Hezbollah, the Israeli infantry became bogged down by dug-in Hezbollah units. Likewise, the Israeli air force, with its high-tech U.S. planes, bombs and missiles, proved no match for Hezbollah’s guerrilla forces and could not locate or decapitate the organization’s command and control structure.

The only thing crushed by Israel was Lebanon’s infrastructure, which was
subjected to a massive bombing campaign that angered the international community. Even the puppet political leadership in Iraq condemned U.S. support for the bombing. In the end, it was international pressure that forced Israel to agree to a ceasefire.

The Israeli public regards the failure to defeat Hezbollah as the worst humiliation suffered in decades. For that reason, some analysts believe Israel sees Lebanon and Hezbollah as unfinished business and is even now planning for the next war in Lebanon.

In the meantime, Israel’s image globally has suffered because of the actions of its military at the end of the war. In the final days leading to the ceasefire, artillery shells loaded with cluster bombs were fired into large areas of Lebanon, including towns and villages. As a result, at least one million cluster bomb droplets were scattered across large swathes of the countryside. While UN teams have been attempting to find and neutralize them, many innocent people, especially women and children, have been killed or injured.

Since the cluster weapons had no obvious military objective it was alleged the Israeli high command fired them as an act of revenge, knowing they would make parts of the landscape uninhabitable and prevent refugees from returning to their homes, especially in the Hezbollah dominated south of the country.

(Issue #52, December 25, 2006)

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Updated January 20, 2007