IDF returns to Lebanon mentally ill man who crossed border

Infiltrator told security forces Hezbollah members threatened to have him institutionalized if he didn’t enter Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative photo of a sign along the Israel-Lebanon border. (photo credit: Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a sign along the Israel-Lebanon border. (photo credit: Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

The Israeli army sent back to Lebanon a mentally ill man who was captured on Sunday after he was apparently forced to cross the border by members of the Hezbollah terror group, the army said.

Soldiers detained the man when he crossed the security fence. During his interrogation he told security officials he was pressured to cross the border by two Hezbollah operatives who had threatened to have him institutionalized.

The army said he was returned to Lebanon shortly after his interrogation ended on Monday.

The IDF, and a Hezbollah-affiliated media outlet, identified the Lebanese man as Ali Mari, who previously crossed into Israel from Lebanon 10 months ago of his own volition.

The army said on Monday the Lebanese man was under surveillance as he approached the security fence. He was picked up shortly after entering Israeli territory and interrogated.

Photographs from the scene, posted by the pro-Hezbollah outlet, showed soldiers standing adjacent to the fence, apparently just after they arrested the man.

“During the interrogation, he stated that he was sent by two Hezbollah operatives, Mahadi and Ali Shahror from the village of Habush. The operatives, who are brothers, threatened him with forced mental hospitalization if he refused to infiltrate into Israeli territory in order to examine possibilities to enter and exit Israel,” the army said.

From left, Ali and Mahadi Shahror, who the IDF says are Hezbollah operatives that pressured a mentally ill Lebanese man into crossing the security fence into Israel on Feburary 11, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Furthermore, he was brought to the point of infiltration by Mahadi Shahror on a motorcycle, and he was told to test if the electric fence is intact,” it said.

In a statement, the IDF accused Hezbollah of abusing Lebanese civilians and “violating UN Security Councils’ resolutions,” apparently referring to Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and is meant to keep the terrorist group away from the border.

Last April, Mari was detained by Israeli police in the bus station of Kiryat Shmona, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the Lebanese border, after police received calls reporting a suspicious-looking person. He was unarmed.

He was handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning following his arrest.

Though it was initially unclear where the man crossed the border, the military later said he had entered Israel in the area of Margaliot, a small community that abuts the security fence.

Following the incident, the deputy commander of the company responsible for the area where the Lebanese man entered Israel was dismissed from his position, and the battalion commander of the area received an official reprimand.

“Operational lessons were learned, including about how the forces functioned during the incident,” the army said at the time.

The father of a Lebanese man who crossed into Israel gives an interview to Lebanese TV (screen capture)

In an interview on Lebanese television last year, the man’s father said his son suffered from mental health issues and believed he was Jewish.

“My son’s mind is not right; he says he was originally Jewish,” the father said when asked if he was aware of Mari’s desire to go to Israel. “Can you imagine a normal person doing such a thing?”

In recent years, the IDF has invested considerable resources in improving its defenses along the border and creating natural obstacles in order to prevent attacks by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Israel and Lebanon are currently engaged in a war of words over the barrier, with Lebanese officials saying it constitutes a violation of their sovereignty.

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