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(photo credit: IAI)
Despite the lifting of an air blockade last week, IDF unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were still flying over Lebanon and gathering intelligence along the border with Syria to prevent the transfer of weapons to Hizbullah, military sources revealed Monday.
According to the sources, Lebanon's border with Syria was the "main conduit" for weapon transfers by Damascus to the terrorist group. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Israel reserved the right to gather intelligence over Lebanon for defensive purposes as deemed necessary. The bulk of the gathering, the sources said, would be along the Syrian-Lebanese border where a multinational force was not in place.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Milos Strugar, the UN's senior civilian adviser in Lebanon, told The Jerusalem Post that by the end of the week, at least 5,000 international soldiers will have deployed in southern Lebanon. The IDF, Israeli officers said, planned to withdraw its remaining forces from Lebanon by Rosh Hashana on October 22.
Israeli soldiers in Lebanon were currently deployed near the border with Israel and were mostly conducting patrols as well as laying ambushes to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel, a source in the Northern Command said Monday.
The fence that lined the border with Lebanon was demolished during the war to facilitate the passage of Israeli forces into Lebanon and has yet to be fully rebuilt.
The UN force, Strugar said, currently consists of 3,500 soldiers. UN resolution 1701 calls for an increase in the force strength of UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops. The international troops currently in Lebanon, the UN official said, consist of 2,000 of the original UNIFIL soldiers deployed along the Blue Line, an Italian battalion stationed in Tyre and French troops - mostly engineers - stationed in Nakoura near Rosh Hanikra and in Marjayoun in the eastern sector of southern Lebanon.
The French are expected to complete the deployment of a battalion by the end of the week alongside a Spanish battalion, scheduled to arrive in Lebanon in the coming days and to be deployed in the eastern sector. The German Naval force is scheduled to arrive off the coast of Lebanon within two weeks. In the meantime, the Italian Navy is commanding the force in place of the Israeli Navy which withdrew its missile ships from Lebanese waters over the weekend following a two-month sea blockade on Lebanon.
Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini, the current head of UNIFIL will, according to Strugar, remain head of the new UN force in Lebanon.
While UN Resolution 1701 did not discuss Israeli flights over Lebanon under the cease-fire, it did state that one of the principles of the truce between Israel and Hizbullah was a "full respect for the Blue Line [Israel's border with Lebanon] by both parties."
Strugar said that UNIFIL monitored air violations by Israel. Since the lifting of the air blockade he said, Israel violated Lebanese airspace at least once on September 8. He added that it was possible that Israel violated Lebanese airspace on additional occasions but that UNIFIL, which only monitored violations over the Blue Line, was not aware of this.
"It is possible that there were other flights from over the sea and deeper into Lebanon that we just do not know about since UNIFIL only covers flights over the Blue Line," Strugar explained.
According to a report published this week by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Iran used airplanes that brought humanitarian aid to the southern Iranian city of Bam, struck by a major earthquake in December 2003, to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah via Syria. The weapon transfers, the report states, were planned by the "Jerusalem Force," a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Headed by Qassem Suleimani, The Jerusalem Force is responsible for Iranian military activity and for directing terrorist organizations in Lebanon and other places around the globe, the report states, adding that Iranian support for Hizbullah included financing of more than $100 million annually.
"Iranians smuggle most of the weapons into Lebanon by a combination of air and overland routes," the report claims. "They reach Lebanon in Iranian planes which land at the Damascus international airport. From there, they are transported overland to Hizbullah in Lebanon."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.