Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fresh crisis in Lebanon ?

Oct.19, 2006

Fresh crisis in the
making in Lebanon?

LITTLE signs are appearing that things might not go the way Israel wants with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Israel had been seeking to use UNIFIL against Hizbollah by creating situations — through false-flag operations if necessary — leading to confrontation between the UN force and the Lebanese group. In turn, the crisis could be turned around, according to the Israeli plans, and lead to disarming Hizbollah sooner than later. Of course, there is no reason to believe it has given up the approach. Howver, fissures have started appearing in ideal scenario that suits Israel in its relations with the UN force.
For the first time since its first deployment in 1978, UNIFIL has warned that the force would open fire on Israeli warplanes violating Lebanese airspace. It is significant because of the restructured nature of the UN force and its Europe-led command. It was the commanders of the French contingent in UNIFIL who wave warned that if Israeli warplanes continue their overflights in Lebanon, they may have to open fire on them.
Predictably, Israel remains defiant. Defence Minister Amir Peretz told a Knesset panel that t despite the warnings, Israel would continue to patrol the skies of Lebanon. He claimed that Syria was transfering arms and ammunition to Lebanon, meaning that the embargo imposed by UN Resolution 1701 was not being completely enforced.
Responding specifically to the UNIFIL warning, Peretz said he was to inform the joint committee of representatives of UNIFIL, the Israeli military and the Lebanese army that unless the arms transfers are stopped, Israel will be forced to take "independent" action.
Indeed, that is Israeli arrogance at is peak. Warning and threatening the UN and various other international agencies and human rights groups is nothing strange when it comes to Israel, which believes it has a high moral ground over anyone else on Planet Earth and the world should always make room for Israeli wishes and commands.
European credibility and prestige are at stake as much as those of the UN. The UN force, which was expanded to 15,000 from 2,000 in line with Resolution 1701, is dominated by European countries and they should not allow themselves to be browbeaten by the Israelis.
The Israeli defiance against UNIFIL stems from the Jewish state's belief that no European country would dare or be ready to take hostile action against it. Even if someone did, then Israel knows how to manipulate its links with the US and make sure the culprit is taken to task for not respecting and defending Israeli interests.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has qualified himself as a target of Israeli wrath by giving ahead the green signal for negotiations with the Lebanese government for a quick sale of an Aster 15 battery, the only Western surface-to-air missile with an active guidance system capable of last-minute corrections of targeting at the moment of interception. It is a a joint Franco-Italian product and therefore approval for the sale has come also from French President Jacques Chirac.
The Beirut government has said it is seeking anti-aircraft missiles as well as long-range anti-tank rockets to block Israeli warplanes from entering Lebanese prevent Israeli tanks again crossing the border.
Surely, Israel has mounted a campaign to pre-empt the sale. Its first argument is that Hizbollah would have access to Aster 15 through the Shiite soldiers in the Lebanese army and this could directly jeopardise Israel’s aerial surveillance of Hizballah and other "hostile movements" in Lebanon.
The only reason Israel has not made a big hue and cry over Lebanon's possible acquisition of Aster 5 and long-range anti-tank rockets is that it would add to the mounting criticism that the Israeli leadership find itself under for the fiasco the Jewish state faced in the July-August war against Hizbollah. That does not mean that behind-the-scene pressure is being to bear upon Prodi and other European leaders who are sympathetic to Lebanon's efforts to acquire a minium level of defence against external aggression.
In the meantime, the possibility remains high that Israel and its agents could create an event in south Lebanon that could lead to the UN force being pitted against Hizbollah. UNIFIL commanders would be better off anticipating a serious crisis of Israel's making in southern Lebanon.