Israel will continue to engage in operations in Lebanon like the raid in Baalbek if Lebanon does not uphold its commitment in UN Resolution 1701 to prevent the rearming of Hizbullah, Israeli diplomatic officials vowed on Saturday night.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday to relay Lebanese complaints about the Baalbek raid and to update Olmert on the arrival of international forces in Lebanon.
Olmert responded that he approved the operation because it was intended to prevent the supply of weapons and ammunition to Hizbullah. The prime minister emphasized the importance of demilitarizing and monitoring south Lebanon.
"It was an act of self-defense and not a violation of the cease-fire," an Olmert associate said. "Hizbullah broke the cease-fire by trying to import Syrian and Iranian weapons. If Lebanon doesn't do what it committed itself to, Israel won't wait six years to allow Hizbullah to rearm. We are permitted to act when the Lebanese do not fulfill their commitments, and the operations will continue as long as the international forces are not ready to take on their responsibilities."
Olmert's associates pointed out that Hizbullah had broken the cease-fire on several instances by firing at IDF units since the cease-fire took effect last Monday. Asked what would happen if the United Nations convened to condemn Israel for the Baalbek raid, a source close to the prime minister said a condemnation would not deter Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev agreed that such incursions would continue until the Lebanese army and the expanded UN peacekeeping force laid out in the truce is in control of the Syrian border to enforce the arms ban.
"In the interim, of course, we can't have a situation where endless amounts of weaponry arrive for Hizbullah, so we are forced to act in response to this violation," Regev said. "Had there been that presence there already, the Israeli operation would have been superfluous."
In a boost for Israel, the US declined to criticize the Israeli operation, noting the UN resolution's arms ban on Hizbullah.
"The incident underscores the importance of quickly deploying the enhanced UNIFIL," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said, referring to the UN monitoring force.
Israeli diplomatic officials said they were still disappointed at the size and scope of the international forces committed to serving in Lebanon. They said they were pleased that a boatload of French rescue teams arrived over the weekend but that the international community needed to take greater responsibility to prevent a reescalation in Lebanon.
Last week's UN cease-fire resolution authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help the Lebanese army extend its authority to south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hizbullah. The United Nations wants 3,500 troops on the ground by August 28, and the entire force in place in three months.
But European nations, expected to lead the multinational force, have been hesitant about committing troops, apparently because of questions about whether the force will be called on to disarm Hizbullah fighters. The Lebanese government already has said it does not plan on disarming the guerrilla group.
France, which commands UNIFIL's current 2,000-strong force, had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force.
But French President Jacques Chirac disappointed the United Nations and others by announcing Thursday that France would add just 200 combat engineers to its current 200-member contingent in Lebanon. Some 50 French troops landed in Lebanon on Saturday, the first reinforcements.
Other European nations have offered even less. Only Italy and Finland have promised troops, but Italy has not committed to specific numbers and Finland's 250-member contingent will arrive only in November. Spain and Bulgaria are considering sending troops, while Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland have made no offers at all.
At a meeting this week of 49 potential contributing nations, the only countries to offer mechanized infantry battalions, which will be the front line of the expanded force, were three Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel - Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia - and Nepal, which is predominantly Hindu.
Many countries said they wanted to study the operational plans for the force and the rules of engagement before making any decisions. They include several European countries, UN diplomats said.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown stressed that more European nations would be needed to balance commitments from Muslim countries so that Israel and Lebanon will view the troops as legitimate.
Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, dismissed suggestions that the failure of European nations to send troops could have triggered the Israeli raid.
"Nobody expected the deployment to be this week anyway," she said in a telephone interview. She noted that although the United Nations is working very hard to find units for UNIFIL, most candidate countries had to get parliamentary approval for their troops to be sent overseas.
"It's therefore logical that they want to know the details of the mandate, the rules of engagement and how the military can apply these," Gallach said.
AP contributed to this report.
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