BEIRUT // Lebanon's military deployed in an aggressive posture and called on United Nations peacekeepers to end Israeli aggression after a weekend incursion by an Israeli military unit into a disputed portion of the border with Lebanon. After complaints by Maj Gen Claudio Graziano, the top military official with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) unit removed an Israeli flag from the newly built observation post just outside Kfar Shouba on a disputed patch of land. Despite the complaints, however, the IDF unit, which entered the territory on Friday, remains in position. In response, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) increased patrols by its units in the area and continued to insist that the Israeli soldiers had entered Lebanon.
In a statement that called the outpost an "act of provocation and a clear violation" of Lebanese territory, the LAF said it would increase its presence in the area. "Given this provocative stance, Lebanese army units deployed in the region ran patrols along the border," said the statement issued by the LAF's Army Command's directorate of orientation. Although the disputed border between Lebanon and Israel, which has had a Unifil presence since 1978, has been relatively quiet since the end of the July 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah, recent provocations by the Israelis have infuriated the Lebanese military.
On at least three occasions in the past two months, Israeli commandos have entered Lebanese territory to help Lebanese accused of spying for Israel escape across the border. In another incident, an accused spy was able to use the mostly dormant international border crossing in Naqoura to escape into Israel. Unifil requires that any Lebanese citizens attempting to enter Israel illegally through that border be returned to Lebanon's security services. As none of the people who have crossed over the border - in several cases with their families - have been repatriated by Israel, it is seen as a tacit admission by Israel that the suspects were, in fact, employed by Israeli intelligence services.
Israel military intelligence is generally responsible for information gathering in Lebanon and other Arab countries adjacent to Israel. Whether Unifil has any authority over the location of the outpost was unclear, however, with a Unifil official explaining that the new outpost was located just south of the peacekeeper's mandate. According to a Unifil spokeswoman, Yasmina Bouziane, the Kfar Shouba Hills fall outside of the peacekeeping force's geographical mandate.
"Unifil's mandate and the authority given to it by the Security Council are strictly limited to its area of operations, which is defined as the area between the Litani River and the line of withdrawal," Ms Bouziane told local newspapers. "The area where the activities are taking place is located south of the line of withdrawal and outside Unifil's area of operations." The dispute comes at a time when Lebanon and Israel are at loggerheads over the location of Israeli military forces along the so-called "blue line".
Israeli troops occupied the Lebanese portion of the town of Ghajar after the war in 2006, and Lebanon has demanded that they withdraw. Ghajar has been split since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria and the adjacent Shebaa Farms from Lebanon during the 1967 war. Although Israel insists that Shebaa Farms is Syrian territory, Lebanon claims the 10km area is sovereign Lebanese territory. Unifil reportedly brokered an agreement for an Israeli withdrawal from the Lebanese side of Ghajar last September, but the IDF has yet to leave the town.