Israeli Officers Ambushed on Northern Border

At around 1:30 pm Israel time today (August 3), an exchange of fire took place between Israeli and Lebanese forces along the border. (This map reflects the exact location of the incident.) According to Lebanese sources, the Israelis had gone over the fence and were cutting down a tree growing on Lebanese soil. Lebanese soldiers allegedly fired warning shots in the air and then at the soldiers.

Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese president, issued his own statement denouncing the clash as a violation of UN Resolution 1701 and calling on the Lebanese army to "confront any Israeli aggression, whatever the sacrifices.”

Israeli military sources assert that the work they were doing was routine; that UNIFIL was warned; and that in that place (and many other ones) the fence was deliberately placed inside of Israeli territory so that work on the other side can be conducted without trespassing into Lebanese territory.

Clearing brush is a high priority for Israel because it was precisely by using brush for cover that Hezbollah fighters were able to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the incident that started the hostilities in the summer of 2006.

But today, according to Israeli sources, there was an ambush. Rather than fire in the air and then at the allegedly trespassing soldiers, Lebanese troops fired at a group of officers standing off to the side of the incident and not even over the fence. They killed a reserve lieutenant colonel and badly injured a reserve captain.

Israel responded with light weapons fire, artillery, and a helicopter gunship, killing three Lebanese troops and one journalist. When the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) asked for a cease-fire to evacuate their dead, which Israel granted, they took advantage of the lull to fire an RPG at an Israeli tank.

The journalist, according to the Italian paper Corriere della Sera, worked for the newspaper al-Akhbar. According to Lee Smith, al-Akhbar is a pro-Hezbollah paper whose editor, Ibrahim al-Amin, is generally considered a Hezbollah spokesman.

The presence of a large number of photographers as well as this journalist at the outbreak of the incident suggests that it was prepared in advance, and firing on officers away from the site of the alleged breach further indicates that this was a deliberate act of aggression. IDF sources declined to speculate but said that they were looking into this possibility.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has issued a strongly worded statement: "Israel views this attack on IDF soldiers with utmost gravity.  This was a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution #1701. I hold the Lebanese government directly responsible for this violent provocation against Israel. Israel responded aggressively, and will do so in the future against any attempt to violate the quiet on northern border, and attack residents of the north and the soldiers who are protecting them."

When asked about the possibility that the Lebanese soldiers involved were Hezbollah, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich of the spokesman’s unit declined to speculate. Leibovich did, however, grant that certain units with the Lebanese army have been strongly influenced by Hezbollah. One blogger noted that the dead were older and heavier than the normal Lebanese army recruit, and Lee Smith remarked that “it is perhaps more accurate to say that the LAF have been entirely penetrated by Hezbollah.”