Despite the careful “he said … she said” approach of the mainstream news media about the clash along the Lebanese-Israeli border this week, events are quite clear: Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were deliberately ambushed by Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
In an outdoor press conference held at a lookout point above the Lebanese border where the incident occurred, Ilan Diksteyn, the deputy commander of the Israeli brigade, explained what happened. The IDF had notified the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of its intentions and complied with multiple requests to delay a routine job that should have started early in the morning and didn’t get going till midday.
According to Diksteyn, he had personally walked the border with the UNIFIL commander and identified all the trees and shrubs they intended to cut down, all approved of as being located on the Israeli side of the border by the UNIFIL commander. The key tree was some 200 meters from the Blue Line, so there was not the most remote possibility that Israel trespassed on Lebanese territory. The IDF even set out the crane without a man in it, just to demonstrate their intentions beforehand.
But no sooner did they put a man in the unit and lift him over the fence than a sniper shot and killed the commanding officer of the unit who was away from the border and observing from a distance. Despite claiming they fired first in the air, and that Israel initiated the hostilities, an LAF spokesman eventually asserted their right “to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
The Israelis claim this was an ambush by units of the Lebanese Armed Forces. And as such, this was an unprecedented new level of aggression. Even the normally cautious UNIFIL, which the previous day had restricted itself to calling for calm and announcing its intention to investigate, eventually — and exceptionally — sided with Israel’s claim that the tree was on their side of the border. Even the Lebanese admit they carried out an ambush.
Of course, for UNIFIL to do so means that Israel had to be unquestionably and irrefutably in the right — “2-300 meters away,” the Israeli officer claimed. Otherwise the UN troops, which operate on the Lebanese side of the border and are subject to constant harassment by Hezbollah, would have found some way to equivocate if not prevaricate. After all, in violation of UN Resolution 1701, which the UNIFIL forces have been deployed to enforce, Hezbollah has managed to rearm and reoccupy the southern border. Indeed, pictures of UNIFIL troops standing side by side with heavily armed LAF troops suggest that the efforts to prevent a clash consisted primarily in getting the Israelis not to do what they had a right to do, rather than preventing the Lebanese from doing what they had no right to do.
From here on out, however, the story gets fuzzy. While some newspapers acknowledged UNIFIL’s confirmation of the Israeli “narrative,” few bothered to draw out the implications, and some, like France2, continued to insist the tree was on the Lebanese side. The New York Times, for example, in a remarkably uninformed article, acknowledged the correction, but ended up repeating the “he said … she said” dance by quoting Lebanese officials rather than questioning them about the problems. The Wall Street Journal emphasized the efforts of UNIFIL to prevent an incident, without even addressing the disturbing evidence that they collaborated in the ambush, and then took a day to state what they knew from the beginning — that Israel was on its own turf.