First order of concern:
I have learned from Chaim Silberstein, father of Shira Ish-Ran, that she has had extensive surgery on the site where the bullet entered her abdomen during the terror attack outside Ofra. She is in a lot of pain and facing a long recovery and rehabilitation. He asks for prayers for her: Shira Yael bat Liora Sara. Also for her husband, Amichai, who is recovering: Amichai Yeshai ben Feige Galila.
And please, prayers for Netanel Felber, of the Netzach Yehuda Battalion, who received critical wounds to the head in the Givat Assaf attack: Netanel Ilan ben Shayna Tzipora.
I mention also Netzach Yehuda Battalion soldier Naveh Rotem, who was injured by a terrorist in Beit El, and is rallying well now.
He relates that when the attack came, “At that moment I thought to myself that this could not happen, my wife could not stay alone.” He later told his father that the image of his 5 month old daughter gave him the strength to fight back and live. “My daughter defeated the terrorist,” he said. He did not want her raised without a father.
So, we pray, and we cry, and we surround these special, special people with love.
And now to the news in the north, which has priority at present. I begin with focus on Lebanon. Here we see IDF soldiers at the Lebanese border.
Things are happening quickly, and in some respects clarity is lacking. But the situation is serious, and merits attention.
As my readers are doubtless aware, three Hezbollah tunnels that originated in Lebanon and moved into northern Israel had been discovered by the IDF in recent days. (Because they are hewed out of rock, they do not require the concrete reinforcement that Hamas tunnels built in sandy soil do.)
The discoveries were made public (although not the precise location in all instances) and the tunnels were dismantled or packed with explosives so they could not be utilized. Some work on dismantling the tunnels was done inside Lebanon under the watchful eyes of UNIFIL (UN Interim Forces in Lebanon).
The commander of UNIFIL was brought to see one tunnel so that he could no longer deny that such tunnels exist. And a good deal was made of UNIFIL’s responsibility with regard to these tunnels – the failure of this UN monitoring group to catch what was going on and to stop it, and the task of UNIFIL now to do the dismantling inside of Lebanon.
Much was made, as well, of the fact that these tunnels, entering Israeli sovereign territory, represented a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701, passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The tunnels indeed are a violation of that resolution, but the thrust of the diplomatic protest seemed more than a bit meaningless. For the very presence in Lebanon south of the Litani River of Hezbollah, with its armed cadres and caches of some 130,000 rockets and missiles, was already a violation. The entire world ignored this violation for years, in spite of the fact that 1701 forbade the presence in that region of any armed force other than the Lebanese army and UNIFIL, assisting the army.
It was a tad late to call on 1701, it seemed to me. What I saw was that Israel was attempting to utilize the presence of the tunnels to expose Hezbollah and to thrust upon UNIFIL and the UN responsibility for enforcing the terms of 1701.
But I quickly came to the conclusion that this diplomatic pressure had almost no chance of succeeding. There are two reasons:
Claude Goasguen, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament, was sent to the Middle East to prepare a strategic assessment and visited Lebanon.
Goasguen came to the conclusion that the Lebanese army and UNIFIL fear Hezbollah:
“They saw construction of tunnels and did nothing, although they had all means.”
This assessment is not a surprise. It dovetails with a statement I had read, made by an unidentified senior IDF officer, who said that if the mandate of UNIFIL were to be enlarged, so that UNIFIL would be required to enforce the resolution and not simply do monitoring, it would be futile. For the nations that send troops to UNIFIL would no longer be willing to do so: these nations would be concerned about the risk to their troops.
Add to this a disturbing and unrealistic US position on the matter.
Israel believes that the cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah is incontrovertible.
But the US policy – now during the Trump administration, as well as prior to Trump – is that the Lebanese army is sufficiently separate from Hezbollah so that it is possible to work with the army and provide it with support.
This is what Shoshana Bryen, Executive Director of the Jewish Policy Center, has to say about “How America Helps Hezbollah” (emphasis added):
“There is no separation between the ‘Lebanese State’ and Hezbollah. Between the whiny little country that bemoans its inability to control events within its borders and the nasty little country from which Hezbollah terrorists massacre Syrian civilians, carry out terror attacks…launder drug money…, train Hamas terrorists and return home with impunity. Between the country that begs for American aid and the country that begs for Iranian aid to carry out different parts of its agenda.
“The United States has, for more than a decade, been responsive to the face Lebanon shows it—unaware, unconcerned or unwilling to deal with the other face.
“The U.S. government has provided military training and weapons—plus $1.5 billion in aid—to the government of Lebanon since 2006, the end of the war Hezbollah instigated against Israel. The goal was to encourage Beirut to abide by the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, and to allow the LAF to operate in the south and on the border with Israel…
“A Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters News Service in May:
“The United States remains committed to supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability, security, and its state institutions, to include the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as the professional…and sole legitimate armed forces of the Lebanese state.
“She noted that the United States considers the LAF ‘the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty.’
“But in the 12 years since the 2006 war, UNIFIL and the LAF have failed to establish or defend Lebanese sovereignty separate from Hezbollah. The United States pays for the fiction that the Hezbollah government in Beirut will order the LAF to fight the Hezbollah army in the south. That the Lebanese right hand will chop off the Lebanese left hand.
“Israel has no territorial aspirations in Lebanon. But the [US] administration’s current policy helps Hezbollah threaten it in a way that can easily lead to more, and bigger, wars.”
In the end, then, where does this leave Israel? It seems to me that Israel, and only Israel, will be prepared to take on Hezbollah, when and if it is deemed appropriate to do so.
But this is not yet the end of the story:
On Sunday, the IDF discovered a fourth cross-border tunnel from Lebanon into Israel. It has been disabled – packed with explosives – but its precise location has not been revealed. We only know that it ran from the Shiite village of Ramyeh in western Lebanon and came into Israel near the community of Zarit.
This is how insane the situation is:
“A spokesperson for the peacekeeping group said UNIFIL could not yet confirm the Israeli allegation that the tunnels were dug by Hezbollah, but said it was continuing to investigate the matter.”
Would UNIFIL like to offer a suggestion as to what other group might have done this? This is clear evidence, standing by itself, that UNIFIL is afraid of Hezbollah.
What they said they were doing was working with both Lebanon and Israel in order to “ensure stability along the Blue Line and prevent misunderstandings in order to keep the area of operation calm.” There have been tensions at the Blue Line border, but, once again, Hezbollah is not even alluded to.
Israel and the US then requested a special UN Security Council session to discuss the issue of the tunnels. That session was held on Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, Israeli time, Prime Minister Netanyahu held a press conference in anticipation of the SC session to follow later in the day. He rejected Hezbollah’s ludicrous claims that the tunnels were for “self-defense.” (We see here that UNIFIL may not admit that Hezbollah built the tunnels, but Hezbollah does.)
The tunnels, he charged, were intended to “penetrate our territory, kidnap our people, including our civilians, murder civilians, and conquer a northern piece of the Galilee. This is not just an act of aggression, but an act of war…
“Hezbollah is a tool of Iran. Both are committed to our destruction…
“They commit war crimes against our civilians, and against Lebanon’s civilians.” (Every third house in southern Lebanon, he charged, is being used for terror purposed and the international community has to hold Iran, Hezbollah and Lebanon responsible.)
“The fact that the Lebanese army is doing nothing means that they are either unable, or unwilling, or both…”
So he tells it exactly as it is. But then he becomes unrealistic: “What has to be done now is to have UNIFIL do something serious. We wait to see that.” (Emphasis here and above added)
Binyamin Netanyahu is sharp. Whatever his rhetoric here, surely he knows that UNIFIL is not going to do “something serious,” and that the international community, which stood by as more than 500,000 Syrians were murdered by Assad (with only Israel providing medical assistance), is not going to act here either.
This whole scenario would be an amusing farce, if it were not so deadly serious. Among the nations of the world there is no moral accounting and no concern for innocent humanity. Israel stands alone.
As to the special Security Council session:
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon revealed that information Israel provided to UNIFIL had been passed to the Lebanese Army, which then passed it to Hezbollah, who then attempted to conceal the tunnels on the Lebanese side.
He also showed a map of the south Lebanese village of Kafr Kela, with Hezbollah installations. Tunnels originate under private houses and rockets and missiles are stored in or adjacent to villages such as this.
“Imagine what would happen to this village in case we have to defend ourselves,” Danon said.
And in the end, this may be what the Israeli protests are all about: making the case for what we may need to do down the road. It would be a very painful scenario. Netanyahu calls this a “double war crime”: Hezbollah hiding behind Lebanese civilians while targeting Israeli civilians.
There were a handful of nations that criticized the tunnels but there was no definitive action taken, no formal resolution.
In fact, there were nations that took the opportunity to criticize Israel for violating 1701. Business as usual.
I will continue to track this situation, and to provide analysis. But now I close with mention of another exceedingly troublesome situation to our north, in Syria:
Very precipitously, President Trump has announced that the US will be pulling out of Syria. “We’ve defeated ISIS,” he tweeted, “my only reason for being there.
But it is not long ago he had said he would stay in Syria as long as there was an Iranian presence there. Right now, I cannot begin to understand what prompted this decision and I am exceedingly unhappy about it, as are most Israelis (and, I strongly suspect Trump advisors such as Bolton): The US withdrawal will create a vacuum that Iran will take advantage of. Prime Minister Netanyahu says we will defend ourselves despite this decision.
I share here an analysis by JPost editor Seth Frantzman and will follow with more in my next posting.
If there is any good news to report with regard to Syria, it is that Israel’s relationship with Russia seems back on track. This might be more important than ever.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.