Belfast Telegraph

Israel was on its own side before border clash

By Robert Fisk

Was the tree inside Israel? The UN implies that the shrubbery that ultimately cost the lives of five men on Tuesday was on the Israeli side of the "Blue Line".

"Unifil established... that the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side," said a Unifil military spokesman.



The tree was certainly north of Israel's own "technical fence". But the Lebanese have their doubts about some parts of the "Blue Line" – which is why Israel's attempt to cut down what appears to be a spruce tree started a gun battle on Tuesday on Lebanon's southern border which killed three Lebanese soldiers, a 55-year-old Lebanese journalist and an Israeli lieutenant-colonel. Along with the fact that Israel had apparently not co-ordinated its gardening expedition with the Lebanese via the UN.

They were at it again yesterday, tearing down more undergrowth on the Lebanese side of the fence – though south of the "Blue Line" – without any coordination with the Lebanese. The UN commander in southern Lebanon was holding tripartite talks with both sides last night in an effort to put an end to this tragic nonsense. The clearance of the shrubbery is intended to enlarge the horizon for Israeli border security cameras – though it hardly seems worth the lives of five men.



The real problem is twofold. The "Blue Line" was inadvisedly drawn on the orders of an ambitious UN civil servant who would one day like to be UN Secretary General. In his haste to draw an "accurate" border, for example, he put the entire area of Shebaa farms – which was Lebanese during the post-First World War French mandate – south and east of the line, effectively putting it under Israeli occupation (which had in military terms been the case since the 1967 Middle East war).



But political errors of this kind led to other mistakes and sapped the belief of Lebanese authorities in the UN's maps.



Add to this the entire regional hostility – Hamas versus Israel, Israel's threats against Syria and Iran and Syria's and Iran's threats against Israel, not to mention the wreckage of George Bush's adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq – and you can see how a tree can start a war.



At least three of the victims of Tuesday's battle – which the Shia Muslim Hizbollah eagerly reported as a Lebanese victory without actually participating in it – were buried yesterday.



At least one of the soldiers was a Christian and so was Assaf Abu Rahal, the journalist and father of three children, Nisrine, Geryes and Mazen.



The UN announced it was still investigating what went wrong. Many UN troops mount foot and vehicle patrols along the frontier road where the shooting took place. They often spend their time trying to prevent journalists taking photographs of the great vista of Israeli countryside in northern Galilee. They can stop cameras shooting pictures, it seems. But not guns shooting bullets.

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