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Friday Aug. 6, 2010 1:24 PM (EST+7)
Lebanon and Israel: If only it was just about trees

Read more: Israeli foreign policy, Israel-Lebanon relations, Lebanon-Israel relations, Borders, United Nation

RAMALLAH, August 6, (JMCC) - The clash along the Lebanese-Israeli border, on August 3, ended in deaths of two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalists and an Israeli officer.  UN peacekeepers quickly intervened to end the fighting. The Economist reflects on the wider significance of this backyard brawl.

It sounded like a news item from a sleepy suburb: Tree-Pruning Ends In Tragedy. At the spot where it happened, Israel’s security fence runs, unhelpfully, not along the legal frontier, but some 60 metres inside the Jewish state, leaving a no-man’s-land gap. Lebanese soldiers, spotting an Israeli maintenance crew using a cherry-picker to reach over the fence, may have assumed this was a border intrusion. They say they fired warning shots over the heads of the crew. To the Israelis they were plainly sniper rounds, one of which struck and killed a lieutenant colonel, standing in an observation post 200 metres away. Israel responded with artillery and rockets. UN peacekeepers quickly intervened to soothe tempers. The UN later said the tree was indeed on the Israeli side of the border.

The tragedy could have been much worse. Israel and Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia party-cum-militia, fought a full-blown war here four summers ago. Despite the withdrawal of Hizbullah fighters and their replacement by ill-equipped Lebanese army conscripts, and despite the presence of a beefed-up 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, tension has been rising. The inconclusive war of 2006, which started when Hizbullah fighters attacked a similar Israeli patrol, has left the Israeli army itching to smash the guerrillas for good, particularly since their arsenal now includes thousands of bigger and better missiles, but also because Hizbullah is funded by, and loyal to, Israel’s biggest bugbear, Iran.

Many Lebanese fear that, in advance of any possible fight with Iran, Israel will try to remove the threat of Hizbullah’s retaliation. Israel’s leaders have stated bluntly that in any future war it would not, as it largely did in 2006, focus its wrath solely on Hizbullah’s Shia areas. It might hit the civilian infrastructure across the country and seek to topple Lebanon’s shaky government, in which the Shia party holds a veto-wielding block of seats in the cabinet.

Read more at The Economist






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