Israel-Lebanese-UN teams secretly start marking out border
In deep hush, joint teams of the Israeli Defense forces, the Lebanese army and the UN Interim Peace Force – UNIFIL – with the quiet approval of the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah – began marking out the Blue Line dividing the two countries at the end of last week, debkafile reveals. Friday, July 31, as soon as Tehran picked up on the project, it called for Arab volunteers to rally “in defense of the Lebanese border.”
If completed, the agreed border will encompass three longstanding flashpoints: the divided Ghajar Village, the Shaaba Farms and the sources of Israel’s water supply.
This is the first time Hizballah has cooperated in any attempt to mark out on the ground the 78.8 kilometer-long international border along the Blue Line existing hitherto only on UN maps laid out by the UN Security Council in 2000, when Israel pulled back from South Lebanon.
Washington and Jerusalem take Hizballah’s assent as signifying that the pro-Iranian terror group has come around to supporting peace diplomacy – albeit through Damascus. But, according to debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources, Hizballah takes the fact that the Lebanese and Israeli governments and the UN had to come asking for its permission as their de facto acceptance of its political and military domination of southern Lebanon.
The Israeli and Lebanese teams are working separately, each on its own side of the border, followed and coordinated by the UN peacemakers who hold the maps.
Israel expects the agreed marking out of the international border to once and for all refute Hizballah’s claims of its military encroachments into Lebanon which it uses to justify its own incursions and adherence to “armed resistance” against Israel. On July 17, a crowd of Hizballah activists disguised as villagers seized an abandoned Israel observation post near Kfarshouba and hoisted flags.
The Blue Line differs only slightly from the international Lebanese-Israeli border determined in 1923 but the tiny discrepancies have sparked heated conflict. The work is therefore going forward slowly and painstakingly no more than a few meters each day. Israel too may find itself having to forego parcels of land.
Both teams are working under heavy guard as they approach the most sensitive patches, the divided village of Ghajar, and the Shaaba Farms at the foot of Mt. Dov. The Blue Line runs down the middle of Ghajar leaving the northern half in Lebanon and the southern under Israel control. But over the years, Israel has conferred citizens’ rights, passports and benefits to the residents, most Allawi Muslims, of both halves.
They are now petitioning the Israeli High Court to stop the border demarcation and prohibit the transfer of the northern half to Lebanon. Further back in history, they claim, their village was part of Syria. A legal opinion bearing out their claims has been submitted to Israel defense minister Ehud Barak.
Another complication not unrelated to the Ghajar case is that of the Shaaba Farms only three kilometers away. This tiny 22-square- kilometer enclave is hotly disputed among Lebanon, Syria and Israel. It was captured by Israel after the Syrian invasion of 1967 and virtually annexed as part of the former Syrian Golan. Now it is claimed by both Damascus and Beirut, although each is prepared to hand it over to the other to get it out of Israeli hands.
The demarcation project can therefore expect to be stalled by Syria when it reaches the Shaaba Farms. At that point its case will start merging with Israel’s military and diplomatic considerations with regard to the future of the Golan.
Another key point to keep in mind is that for Israel to relinquish Ghajar village and the Shabaa Farms means losing control of the Baniyas, Hatzbani and Wazani headwaters of the Sea of Galilee, its main source of water.
In an effort to keep the border demarcation under wraps, the Lebanese army last week declared a state of war alert on its border with Israel, which is still in effect, in the hope of letting sleeping dogs lie in Damascus and Tehran and avoid rousing Hizballah to change its mind.
But the Iranians were not fooled. Friday, July 31, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said apparently out of the blue: “I propose that the Arab states that did not take the necessary steps during the past aggression on Lebanon to make their volunteers fully available for Lebanon.”
This message was addressed to Hizballah and most of all Syria.