Right and wrong in Lebanon

The UN, US and EU should tell Lebanon the truth – that it was the aggressor and Israel the defender in Tuesday’s bloodletting.

Israel Lebanon border clash 465 for gallery 1 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel Lebanon border clash 465 for gallery 1
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Lebanese don’t want a war and neither do we, yet we came pretty close to one a couple of days ago. Another deadly exchange along the border like that and we could have the Third Lebanon War on our hands. So here are a couple of suggestions on how to prevent it – how to lower the tension on the border.
First, the international community, such as it is, has to tell the Lebanese Army to back off. Instead of timidly calling for restraint on both sides, which does nothing to prevent the next clash, the UN, US and EU should tell Lebanon the truth – that it was the aggressor and Israel the defender in Tuesday’s bloodletting. Such a message might have a chastening effect on the folks up north.
The Lebanese admit they fired first. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the bottom line. Even if the tree that the IDF was cutting down for visibility’s sake had been on Lebanese territory, as Lebanon and much of the Arab world claim, there are other ways of dealing with the issue. A little strategic landscaping on a minute patch of disputed territory doesn’t justify shooting at Israeli soldiers.
The admission in Lebanon’s Daily Star: “Fighting broke out near the village of Adayassah, close to the Blue [border] Line, after an Israeli Army patrol attempted to cut down a tree in Lebanese territory, prompting fire from nearby Lebanese Army positions.”
Reuters quoted a Lebanese Army statement that after IDF soldiers defied UNIFIL requests by crossing the border, “A Lebanese Army force then repelled it using rocket-propelled grenades.”
By admittedly firing first, that makes the Lebanese wrong, in my book, even if an IDF cherry-picker did cross two feet into their territory. It was those first shots – into Israeli territory that is not in dispute – which killed Lt.-Col. Dov Harari and severely wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia, says the IDF. Wrote Reuters: “The Israeli Army showed reporters blood stains outside a bunker some 100 meters inside its side of the border fence where it said the colonel was shot in the head and another officer was shot in the chest and seriously wounded.”
BUT NOW we even have UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) backing the IDF’s claim that the cherry-picker was on Israeli territory when the Lebanese started shooting. Milos Strugar, UNIFIL’s senior political adviser, told IDF Radio yesterday that while the cherry-picker had been “on the northern [Lebanese] side of the border fence,” the ground on which it stood was still “south [on the Israeli side] of the international borderline.”
And contrary to Lebanese claims that UNIFIL troops were trying to stop the IDF from cutting down the tree, Strugar said UN forces were trying “to calm the situation and allow the IDF to work.”
So I think the question of who was in the wrong and who in the right is clear enough. By the time the shooting stopped, the IDF had wreaked the greater amount of damage and bloodshed, killing three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, but I don’t think anyone can say this response was disproportionate.
Before Tuesday, Lebanese soldiers on the border had been pushing Israeli troops all the time, pointing their rifles at them and such. This time it went beyond provocations to the killing of Harari, the severe wounding of Lakia and the near-touching- off of a war, the war that people have been predicting, and now more than ever.
If this is not the time for Ban Ki-moon, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and other world leaders to speak out clearly and decisively, then when is?
BUT WORLD leaders like to be even-handed, so here’s another suggestion: Let them also tell Israel to stop flying spy planes over Lebanon just about every day. That is also a provocation – not a lethal one, but an invasion of airspace that we would never tolerate from any country, which makes it completely wrong for us to do to Lebanon.
Worse, these flights could set off a war – and in that case the war would be at least partly Israel’s fault. In the past, the Lebanese Army fired at our spy planes evidently just for show. Yet in recent months, according to Yediot Aharonot’s military commentator Alex Fishman, the Lebanese have been “firing at Israeli Air Force piloted vehicles to an unusual extent.”
It seems that ordinarily, neither the Lebanese Army nor Hizbullah would want to shoot down an Israeli spy plane, or otherwise cause it to crash, for fear of what Israel would do in response. But when the bullets are flying and the blood is spilling, as they just did, rationality can go out the window.
If a Lebanese Army or Hizbullah soldier caused an Israeli spy plane to crash in Lebanese air space, a war would likely ensue – and while we would not have started it, we would have provoked it.
So enough with the spy planes. The mission they’re flying is too risky, it creates a lot of bad blood on the Lebanese side, and it’s wrong. Not as wrong as killing Israeli soldiers, but wrong.
And to those who say the spy planes are justified by Hizbullah’s arms build-up, which is likewise a violation of the UN’s cease-fire that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, I say Hizbullah, twisted as it is, does have the right to stockpile arms – and the West tacitly agrees. Officially or unofficially, Hizbullah is one of Lebanon’s armed forces, and Lebanon has no less a right to armed forces than does Israel or any other country. What Lebanon doesn’t have is the right to shoot at Israel, and what Israel doesn’t have is the right to fly spy planes over Lebanon.
And if the world makes those two points absolutely clear to them and to us, I think the chance of steering around the next war might get a little healthier.