In an effort to put a stop to Israeli overflights in Lebanon, the French Armed Forces has deployed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) squadron in southern Lebanon to conduct intelligence-gathering missions in place of the IDF.
France, a member of UNIFIL, has expressed adamant opposition to IAF overflights in Lebanon. Last month, OC Planning Division Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan traveled to Paris for meetings with senior military officials during which he tried to explain Israel's operational needs. The flights, the IDF claims, are necessary for gathering intelligence and keeping an eye on the Lebanese-Syrian border through which weapons are smuggled to the Hizbullah.
Angered however from an incident in October during which French soldiers almost opened fire at an IAF fighter jet, military sources in Paris told The Jerusalem Post following Nehushtan's visit that they were still opposed to the overflights and that French soldiers stationed in Lebanon were given the authority to open fire at Israeli jets if they felt threatened by the flights.
According to Israeli defense sources, the French initiative is also meant to prove the operational capabilities of its UAVs so they can compete against Israeli defense industries on the global UAV market.
While welcoming the use of UAVs as part of UNIFIL operations in Lebanon, a high-ranking officer said Sunday that the IDF would not stop flying over Lebanon.
"We need to allow UNIFIL all of the means it finds essential to perform its missions," the officer said. "But at the same time, until Hizbullah fulfills its part of UN resolution 1701 and returns the kidnapped soldiers [Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser Y.K.] there is no reason for us to completely fulfill our part of the agreement and stop the overflights."