Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Tension in the North"

Arlene Kushner

A report by a 'top military intelligence officer" to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday included a warning that Hezbollah is getting ready for new violence along the border with Israel.

A "change in preparedness" south of the Litani River has been detected, which UNIFIL is unable to prevent. While UNIFIL monitors open areas, it is prohibited from entering southern Lebanese villages and towns without coordination with the Lebanese army, and it is precisely in these areas that Hezbollah is increasing operations, with operatives dressed as civilians. (The ultimate outcome of this situation is painfully easy to predict, as we take on Hezbollah operatives and are condemned for hitting "civilians.") AThis report clarifies Defense Minister Barak's motives in touring the northern border yesterday and making a statement that "Israel is the strongest country in the region, and I wouldn't recommend that anyone provoke us. Hezbollah is becoming stronger, but so are we. The IDF is prepared for all eventualities. We watch the pastoral calm, and we know that other things are seething beneath the surface."


While, today, al-Quds al-Arabi, in London, has reported that Damascus is summoning its reserves and concentrating its forces along the Lebanese border in anticipation of an Israeli attack on Hezbollah and Syria.

This has been denied by a member of Syrian's National Security Committee, which says Hezbollah is quite capable of taking care of itself.

None the less, Barak is taking it all seriously enough so that he has cancelled a trip out of the country. And Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Dan Harel said today that "anyone who attempts to attack Israel should bear in mind that the response will be harsh and painful." Both, however, at one and the same time, have indicated that nothing is imminent.

The paper additionally said that Hezbollah is currently refraining from exacting revenge for the murder of Mughniyeh at this time, so as to not give Israel an "excuse" to attack. If this is true, it would be a significant indicator of Israeli deterrence.


I offer here two cautionary notes regarding not believing everything you hear (or read):

In an interview published yesterday in Al Aayam, a Palestinian paper, Khaled Mashaal, political head of Hamas in Damascus says that Hamas accepts a state defined by '67 lines. Not spoken, but implied here is that Hamas accepts Israel within the Green Line. His source for this is the Prisoners Document, which was drafted in Israeli prison by Hamas and Fatah prisoners, calling for a Palestinian state on all the territories occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital.

However (and this is a huge 'however'), the document says nothing about accepting the right of Israel to exist within those '67 lines.


The second incident involves WHO (the World Health Organization) of the UN. At a press conference yesterday in Jerusalem, Ambrogio Manenti, the head of WHO in Gaza and the West Bank, said that Israeli policy with regard to bringing Gazans who require medical treatment into Israel was "inhumane."

Manenti's charge is that sick Gazans have to wait so long for security clearance that they die before they can be brought in.

Col. Nir Press, commander of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, responded to these charges, saying that they were "one-sided, inaccurate and misleading."

He pointed out that while stringent security checks were necessary because on occasion there are attempts to smuggle suicide bombers into Israel using the ruse of illness, over 90% of those requesting treatment in Israeli hospitals receive clearance. And the other 10% is provided with an opportunity to utilize a shuttle across Israel to go into Jordan for treatment.

To illustrate the problem, Manenti had highlighted five cases of Gazans who had allegedly died waiting for clearance. Press said, however, that all five had clearance to come into Israel and two in fact had received treatment in Israel; the others had been held up by internal factors inside of Gaza and not by lack of clearance.
In 2007, 7,226 permits were granted to sick Palestinians to travel to Israel, an increase of over 50% from 2006 when 4,754 were allowed in. in the first quarter of 2008, 2,000 ill persons from Gaza have already been brought to Israeli hospitals. I recently wrote the story of premature twins of a Palestinian mother from Gaza, in Barzelai hospital in Ashkelon, who were brought into the bomb shelter when a Katyusha was shot near the hospital from Gaza.


Yet one other concession that Barak has indicated willingness to consider, at the prodding of Rice, is the granting of permission for the PA to monitor the Gaza side of the Erez and Karni crossings into Israel, if the violence stops. In this, he is would be on a collision course with the IDF, which is adamantly opposed. Two officers have spoken out: OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yussef Mishlev.

As one defense official rightly explained it, "How can we let Abbas deploy forces there while Hamas is in control of Gaza?" Indeed, how can we? There is the suggestion that even Barak, who said it would be "considered," knows we cannot.

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