UNIFIL soldier 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Outgoing UNIFIL Commander General Claudio Graziano has denied that arms have been smuggled to Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.
Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday morning, Graziano instead criticized Israel for violating UN Resolution 1701, citing IAF forays into Lebanese airspace.
The resolution ended the Second Lebanon War and instituted a UN presence in southern Lebanon to ensure the prevention of renewed conflict between Israel and Hizbullah.
"There are Israeli violations of 1701, and this undermines the credibility of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. Even if Israel says that the flights are a vital step meant to prevent smuggling and provide intelligence, they are a violation of state sovereignty, and furthermore, humiliation," Graziano told the radio station.
In Israel, there are assertions that Hizbullah is getting stronger and continuing to smuggle weapons from Syria and Iran. Proof of this, sources in Jerusalem are reported to have said, include the explosion six months ago of a weapons cache only ten kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese border in the town of Hirbat Salim, weapons said to have originated in Syria.
During the Army Radio interview, Graziano took issue with the Israeli assessment, asserting that weapons had not been smuggled into southern Lebanon. Graziano did not similarly criticize Hizbullah and he stressed that in recent years there have been no incidents of violence between UNIFIL forces and Hizbullah.
In response, Minister-Without-Portfolio Yossi Peled (Likud), the former OC Northern Command, told the station, "It's unclear to me why the Italian general is referring to seeming Israeli violations."
"It has become habit for international organizations to say that all bad things occurring here are because of us," he added. "There is a UN decision, and part of that decision addresses weapons smuggling, or its prevention. There is a very strange balance here."
On Saturday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu quickly distanced himself from comments Peled made earlier in the day that another military conflict with Hizbullah is inevitable.
Within hours of Peled's comments, made at an event in Beersheba, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that Netanyahu has made clear that Israel "is not looking for any confrontation with anyone. Israel is interested in peace."
Peled said that "without a doubt we are heading for another round [of fighting] in the North. No one knows when, but it's clear that it will happen. We did not know that the Second Lebanon War was going to break out."
Peled's comments came some three-and-a-half years after the Second Lebanon War.
Also on Saturday, The Washington Post
reported that Hizbullah had moved long-range missile launch pads into both northern Lebanon and its eastern Bekaa Valley, and that there was little the UN presence in the area could do to stop a war between Israel and the guerrilla group.
Quoting Middle East analysts, the Washington Post
report went on to say Hizbullah launch sites now likely extended to the north of Beirut.
The IDF believes that Hizbullah has obtained Iranian-made Fajr missiles, either the Fajr 3 or Fajr 5. The Fajr 3 is 5 meters long and can carry a 45-kg. warhead.
Lebanese MP Marwan Hamadeh was also quoted in the report, noting the influence of Iran and the United States on the regional conflict. "With Iran backing and supplying Hizbullah and the United States backing and supplying Israel, the battlefield is Lebanon," the anti-Hizbullah lawmaker reportedly said.
"This is where the Iranian missiles sit, and this is where the Israeli air force can reach," he added.
Meanwhile, Hizbullah on Friday denounced remarks made a day earlier by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
"Israel is our friend, and if there was a threat to Lebanon, it will only come from a military adventure carried out by Hizbullah in the best interest of Iran," Kouchner was reported to have told the visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris.
According to a report in Lebanon's Daily Star
, Hizbullah strongly condemned the remarks and said, "We see the clear [influence] of the Israeli voice and a complete disregard of the history and legacy of France in fighting aggression and occupation.
"This stance [by Kouchner] is an attempt to absolve the Israeli enemy [of guilt] and cover its repeated violations of Lebanese sovereignty," the statement continued. "This constitutes protection of the Israeli occupier and an encouragement for it to continue with its violations."