Jerusalem expressed satisfaction Saturday night with a French-circulated draft Security Council statement that expresses "serious concern" at mounting reports of illegal arms transfers across the Lebanon-Syria border and authorizes an independent mission to assess how the frontier is being monitored. Israel, according to senior government officials, has sent a clear message in recent weeks that "if the issue was not taken care of, Israel would be forced to defend itself from the smuggling." The officials said the issue was discussed extensively with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his visit last month. It was also discussed in depth last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and with the Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, which is a member of the Security Council, during his visit last month.
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After months of being very reluctant to share intelligence showing clearly that the smuggling was taking place, Israel has presented world leaders with this data over the last few weeks.
While the proposed French resolution stops far short of what Israel would like to see - an international force along the Lebanese-Syrian border, similar to the UNIFIL force currently deployed along the Israeli-Lebanese frontier - it is viewed in Jerusalem as an indication that the international community is beginning to take the issue more seriously.
The proposed resolution, sent to council members late Thursday, welcomes the Lebanese government's "determination" to prevent weapons transfers, which are banned under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War.
It reiterates the council's call on the Syrian government "to take further measures to reinforce controls at the border," and urges all countries, especially Syria and Iran, to enforce the arms embargo.
The council is expected to discuss the draft statement, probably next week.
The statement welcomes Ban's intention to evaluate the situation along the border in cooperation with the Lebanese government and others, "and invites him to dispatch at the earliest an independent mission to fully assess the monitoring of the border."
Last Saturday, Ban warned during a visit to Lebanon that arms smuggling from Syria could threaten the cease-fire in Lebanon and urged full compliance with UN Resolution 1701.
"There are intelligence reports that arms are smuggled. I am concerned by that kind of arms smuggling, which will destabilize the situation in Lebanon," he said.
The leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported Ban told Lebanese security chiefs that Israel had provided him with "evidence and pictures" of trucks crossing from Syria to Lebanon and unloading weapons.
Ban expressed the need for "an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity."
Asked again on Thursday about the smuggling allegations, Ban said they "should independently be assessed."
"Full compliance of 1701 is crucially important in maintaining peace and security there," he said. "Arms smuggling into Lebanon is a violation of 1701."
In the French draft, the Security Council would express "its serious concern at mounting reports of illegal movements of arms across the Lebanese-Syrian border in violation of Resolution 1701." When the council receives recommendations from the secretary-general, the draft says it will "take further concrete steps to achieve the goals" of banning the sale or transfer of arms or technical assistance to any entity or individual not authorized by the Lebanese government.
The council would also reiterate "its deep concern at the continuing Israeli violations of Lebanese air space" and appeals to all parties to respect the cease-fire and the UN-drawn boundary between Israel and Lebanon, known as the Blue Line, and "refrain from any provocation." Israel maintains that these overflights are necessary because of the arms smuggling.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said at a news conference with Ban that the government was trying to improve its monitoring capabilities but stressed that "not one single case of arms smuggling across the border" with Syria has been recorded.
Hizbullah, however, has boasted that it replenished its stockpile of rockets after the war.
In February, Hizbullah acknowledged that a truckload of ammunition seized by the government belonged to it and demanded its release. It urged the government to abide by its own policy, proclaimed in 2005, of supporting the "resistance" in the south, which is Lebanese shorthand for Hizbullah - but the government refused.
The French draft expresses "deep concern" at statements by Hizbullah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, notably about the February arms shipment, which "are an open admission of activities which would constitute a violation of Resolution 1701."
The draft also again urges Israel to provide the UN with detailed data on its use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon.
The proposed statement notes "with profound concern" that there has been no progress on the issue of returning IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and also encourages efforts to urgently settle the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.