Plans for time being entail continuation of efforts to change UNIFIL's mandate.
By YAAKOV KATZ, SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKELPublished: FEBRUARY 28, 2007 08:32Advertisement
Israel is considering taking action to stop the smuggling of weapons from Syria to Hizbullah, although plans for the time being entail a continuation of diplomatic efforts to change UNIFIL's mandate so that the UN force will deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border, Israeli sources said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot met with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy at Northern Command headquarters in Safed. Sources said the two discussed the Syrian arms smuggling and ways to better enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which forbids the transfer of weapons to Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz hinted on Tuesday at a possible Israeli use of force along the Syrian-Lebanese border. During a tour of the Gaza border with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Peretz said that for now, Israel would continue to demand that the international community stop the weapons traffic.
"We demand from all the international parties involved to put an end to the smuggling," he told reporters during a briefing at the IDF's Yiftah base just north of Gaza, home to the Givati Brigade's Shaked Battalion. "In the end, however, we will take responsibility and will do everything to defend the State of Israel. We will not allow the situation in southern Lebanon to return to the way it was on the eve of the war."
The IDF and the Foreign Ministry have been conducting a worldwide public relations campaign, showing intelligence collected inside Lebanon to representatives of countries that could assist in changing UNIFIL's mandate. On Monday, senior IDF officers presented intelligence to visiting UN envoy Michael Williams, and officers have also recently presented the information to the United States and Russia, and to European countries that are members of UNIFIL.
Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that while Security Council Resolution 1701 was only being "partially implemented," it was the best option at the time.
Livni told the panel Israel was working with "international partners" to find ways to tighten the border between Lebanon and Syria. "Hizbullah is getting stronger beyond the Litani [River]. At this point, we could not act there freely if we needed to," she said.
During Tuesday's briefing, Peretz also hinted at a possible military operation in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is continuing to build up its strength. He said Israel was interested in "giving the cease-fire a chance" and planned to continue diplomatic efforts to stop the Kassam rocket attacks.
"Due to the continued military buildup [in Gaza], however, we are obligated to prepare ourselves," he said. "When we will need to conduct the necessary operations to curb the growing threat, we will do so without any fear or hesitation."
At the Yiftah base, Peretz and Ashkenazi heard soldiers' views on a potential operation inside the Gaza Strip. A company commander told the minister that due to a major increase in training - a key result of the lessons of the Lebanon war - the soldiers were now better prepared for the next war.
"All the training has paid off," the officer said after a lieutenant told Peretz that as a result, the soldiers "had bridged gaps" and now knew how to "better use their submachine guns and sniper rifles."
Officers who were present at the meeting spoke of a "positive dynamic" between Ashkenazi and Peretz and of a feeling of a "new spirit" within the IDF.
The meeting hit an emotional point after an officer from the battalion of abducted Cpl. Gilad Schalit asked Ashkenazi to allow his unit to remain in the Southern Command and to participate in the fighting in Gaza until Schalit is freed.
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