IDF: New border needed to solve Ghajar 'death trap'

'We don't know who is innocent and who is the enemy'

Despite the IDF's maximum efforts, the divided town of Ghajar is a death trap and constitutes the most severe breach of security along the northern border with Lebanon, a senior IDF officer stationed in the Northern Command told The Jerusalem Post this week. But to the army's disdain, for now the government does not seem interested in setting a new border. Last month the idea of disengaging from Ghajar was rejected by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who claimed that building a wall through the middle of the town and moving 400 families on the Lebanese side into Israel was impossible due to a range of diplomatic, security and budgetary considerations. "The situation needs to change," the officer said, "and the residents there are beginning to realize that their town cannot remain divided forever." A tranquil Alawite Muslim village of several thousand Israeli Arabs, Ghajar straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border; half the town is in Israel and the other half is in Lebanon. On the outskirts of the Lebanese side of the town, Hizbullah has set up a military outpost, which they used in November to launch an unsuccessful attack to try and kidnap IDF soldiers stationed inside the town. Since the attack, the army has beefed up its forces in the town and on Wednesday tanks were parked outside, pointed at the nearby Hizbullah outpost. "It is an impossible situation over there," the officer told the Post following a tour of the IDF deployment along the border. "It is practically impossible to secure the area when there isn't a clear border and we don't know who is innocent and who is the enemy." The "Ghajar breach," as the IDF calls it, has been a thorn in Israel's side since the army's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, but it only turned violent in November after Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah decided to take advantage of the "diplomatic loophole" there and launch an attack. Ghajar has posed a security dilemma since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, and a UN team determined that the international border between Israel and Lebanon ran directly through the middle of the town. Israel agreed to the demarcation since it was more interested in obtaining UN and international recognition for its withdrawal. Israel, the officer said, now has two options: either it withdraws from Ghajar and sets the border with the entire town in Lebanon, or the opposite and brings all of the residents on the Lebanese side into Israel. "We are doing our utmost to secure the area," he said. "But the situation there is so difficult that even our maximum efforts are not enough." Ghajar is a perfect example of the complex relationship among Hizbullah, Lebanon, Israel and the United Nations. According to some officers, UN observers stationed in southern Lebanon were not doing enough to prevent Hizbullah attacks. "The UN plays a very passive role in southern Lebanon," one officer said. "They don't want to get involved in the conflict, and even if they see Hizbullah operatives on their way to launch a missile, they won't try and stop them." Another officer accused the UN of having an overly friendly relationship with Hizbullah, implying that it clouded the peacekeeper's judgment. "They have their outposts right next to one another and they are friends," the officer said. While Hizbullah is "no match" for the IDF, the officer said that the group was beginning to take on the form of an institutionalized military. "Hizbullah isn't interested in blowing up a suicide bomber at the Kiryat Shmona mall," the officer said. "Everything they do has a purpose and is part of a larger diplomatic scheme." While Israel could assassinate Nasrallah "any time and any place," the Hizbullah leader, the officer said, was currently a convenient adversary. "We and him know the rules of the game already," he said. "If we were to kill him, and we can, we need to assume that someone much worse would take his place." For now, the IDF plans to continue maintaining its high alert along the Lebanese border, wary that any mistake it makes could set the region on fire. "If we even accidentally cross the border, we give the Hizbullah an excuse to shell and attack us," the officer said. "Every move we make is calculated since the situation here is extremely delicate."