With guns out, Israeli and Lebanese soldiers squabble at border

With guns out, Israeli and Lebanese soldiers squabble at border

In morning incident, Lebanon disputes Israel’s placement of concertina wire along Blue Line separating the two countries; UN troops on site keep peace

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli, Lebanese troops argue after Israel places concertina wire near border between two countries on December 17, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Israeli, Lebanese troops argue after Israel places concertina wire near border between two countries on December 17, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Rifles drawn, Israeli and Lebanese troops verbally sparred over Israel’s placement of concertina wire along the border line separating the two countries Monday morning, as part of an ongoing IDF effort to find and destroy cross-border attack tunnels.

United Nations peacekeepers were at the scene, working to prevent conflict between the two sides.

On December 4, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Northern Shield, an effort to find attack tunnels dug into Israeli from southern Lebanon by the Hezbollah terror group. So far, the Israeli military has said it’s uncovered four such tunnels but knows of the existence of several more.

The operation has raised prospects of a possible fresh conflict on the volatile border, though Lebanon has downplayed chances of war so long as Israeli troops do not cross the border. UN peacekeepers have also stepped up patrols to ensure the frontier remains calm.

The IDF said Monday it placed rolls of concertina wire on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, the armistice line that acts as a de facto border between the two countries. The army said it had coordinated its activities with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL.

The Lebanese military, however, objected to the concertina wire’s placement and approached the area in an apparent effort to remove it.

Video from the scene showed Lebanese soldiers arguing with unarmed UNIFIL officials and Israeli troops about the exact location of the border.

“You told us it was behind the tree,” one of the Lebanese soldiers is heard saying.

The IDF said the altercation never escalated to violence. Both sides eventually left the area.

“UNIFIL troops were deployed in the area to defuse the situation, prevent misunderstandings and maintain stability,” a spokesperson for the peacekeeping force told The Times of Israel.

“The situation in the area is now calm and our troops are on the ground,” he said on Monday afternoon.

This weekend, the Israeli military uncovered a fourth cross-border attack tunnel that it says the Hezbollah terror group dug into Israel from southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF refused to specify where the tunnel was found, but said the “relevant local governments” were notified of its location. “The tunnel is under IDF control and does not present a threat,” the army said in a statement.

The IDF filled the tunnel with explosives — as it did with the three other tunnels it exposed in recent weeks — in order to ensure that it could not be used to carry out an attack.

“Whoever enters it from the Lebanese side forfeits his life,” the army said in a statement.

The military said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by the Iran-backed terror group as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow dozens or hundreds of terrorists into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above-ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.

Israeli troops search for a Hezbollah border-crossing attack tunnel from southern Lebanon, along the northern border, on December 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The specific number of tunnels that Israel believes were dug from Lebanon, as well as other information about the operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.

According to the IDF, Operation Northern Shield is taking place close to Lebanese territory, sometimes on the north side of the border wall, albeit still inside Israeli territory.

An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 9, 2018, shows Israeli and United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers gathered on the Israeli side of the border between the two countries (Ali DIA / AFP)

Israeli officials have indicated that the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory, if necessary, to destroy the tunnels. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said Tuesday that the United States assured him that Israel has “no aggressive intentions” with its Operation Northern Shield.

The first and second tunnels were found outside the town of Metulla, near the Lebanese border. The military has refused to reveal the locations of the subsequent tunnels it found, and the military has censored much of the information surrounding the operation, citing national security.

Israel maintains that the tunnels represent a “serious violation of Resolution 1701 and the State of Israel’s sovereignty.”

UN Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and required all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River.

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