An apparently minor incident Thursday, Jan. 18, between Spanish UNIFIL members policing the Israeli-Hizballah ceasefire in S. Lebanon and dozens of angry villagers exposes Hizballah’s increasing pugnacity.
The incident at Zaoutar, north of the Litani River, did not deteriorate into a clash and no one was hurt. Dozens of villagers confronted the Spanish unit of two Humvee vehicles which was inspecting the roads and taking pictures of the terrain, and tried to snatch their cameras. The Spanish troops took up combat positions. The UNIFIL spokesman played the incident down as a “breakdown in communications.”
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly discloses the background threatening sensitive south Lebanon with new volatility, just five months after the UN peacekeepers took up positions there.
It began with a brainwave, which struck the French ambassador in Beirut, Bernard Emie,
as a way to help Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora enhance his image, which has been sagging under the Hizballah siege of his government.
His idea was for Paris to persuade Israel to give up its air surveillance flights over Lebanon and let Siniora take the credit for this achievement, and pick up congratulations from his countrymen and Arab neighbors.
The question was: How to persuade Israel to give up the over-flights which are conducted to record incoming Hizballah arms consignments from Syria and Iran? French defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie had tried often enough with no success.
Ambassador Emie had the answer: A French squadron of pilot-less planes, together with surveillance craft from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle cruising opposite the Lebanese shore, would take the place of the Israeli flights.
They would report to Israel on any violations of UN Security Council’s truce resolution of August 2006.
Iran orders Hizballah to flex its muscles
When the Iranian Revolutionary Guards command in Tehran got wind of the French ambassador’s plan, they hit the ceiling. On no account must French air force spy planes be allowed to access Lebanese air space and gather intelligence, they decided, and sent their Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah, into urgent action.
A series of stiff injunctions were addressed this week by Hizballah to French ambassador Emie. The French UNIFIL contingent, as well as all the international forces, would henceforth be subject to the following prohibitions in South Lebanon:
1. They would be denied access to local villages for searches. DEBKA-net-Weekly reports that Hizballah has moved all its arms caches out of non-Shiite towns to South Lebanese villages.
UNIFIL is forbidden to pass to Israel data or images gathered in their intelligence surveillance operations.
3. The peacekeepers must strictly confine their activities to the Lebanese-Israeli border sector; no troops would be granted access to any other parts of the country.
Should the French unit disobey these prohibitions and transmit intelligence data to Israel, Hizballah will be at liberty to take certain steps.
- The French UNIFIL contingent will be declared a Western spy network passing secrets to Israel and alien parties in the Middle East.
- Hizballah will set up military roadblocks outside its villages and will not be responsible if its adherents fire on international peacekeepers who they regard as acting suspiciously.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the French ambassador informed Paris of Hizballah’s threats. The French government quickly climbed down and ordered the ambassador in Beirut to bury his brainwave out of sight.