(photo credit: Channel 2)
With mounting IDF concern over Hizbullah's post-war rearmament, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot will meet Tuesday for the first time with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano at military headquarters in Safed.
The two will meet for lunch and will be joined by head of IDF Strategic Planning Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel and Lt.-Col. Sorele Hershkovitz, head of the foreign liaison bureau in the Northern Command.
Northern Command sources said that while the lunch was scheduled to allow the commanders to become acquainted - Graziano took up his post earlier this month - they noted that Eizenkot would use the opportunity to raise several key issues with the UNIFIL commander, including the continued Hizbullah military presence in southern Lebanon and the smuggling of weapons from Syria to the guerrilla group.
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The IDF confirmed that a meeting was scheduled between the two generals on Tuesday. But a UNIFIL spokesperson denied that there were any plans for such a meeting. IDF sources said it was possible that UNIFIL was concerned about a Lebanese and Hizbullah backlash over Graziano's meeting inside Israel. The UNIFIL commander has already visited Israel and met with senior officers at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv earlier this month.
Eizenkot and Graziano, officials said, were likely to discuss the continued IAF overflights in Lebanon as well as the February 7 violent clashes between IDF troops and soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
Before the meeting with Eizenkot, Graziano, an Italian officer, will attend a tripartite meeting with representatives of the IDF and the LAF at a UN position at the Naqoura border crossing.
Since Graziano's takeover of the UNIFIL command, officers said an improvement had been noticed in the peacekeeping force's performance in southern Lebanon, although more could be done.
"UNIFIL, under Graziano, is doing a good job but more can be done," claimed a top Northern Command officer. "We hope that with time UNIFIL will continue to improve."
On Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with a special UN envoy to the region to assess compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended last summer's war in Lebanon and paved the way for the establishment of the beefed up UNIFIL, now at over 12,000 soldiers from close to 30 nations.
On Sunday, intelligence officials told the cabinet that Hizbullah was rearming and was close to returning to the level of strength it maintained before this summer's Lebanon war.
"Hizbullah has one purpose and that is to destroy the State of Israel," a top official said. "That is why even though it suffered heavy losses during the war, it is only a matter of time before there is another flare-up."