Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Teves 5764 - January 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Lebanese Border Quiet but Tense
by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Israel was likely to retaliate for the antitank missile attack Monday by Hizbullah on one of its military bulldozers near the Lebanon border that killed one soldier and seriously wounded another.

The armored D-9 bulldozer was clearing a roadside mine that had been set by Hizbullah some weeks previously. The explosives were not cleared earlier because of the steady rains. The IDF does not know how the guerrillas managed to penetrate the security fence in order to lay the explosives and return to Lebanon. Israel said it had uncovered roadside explosives planted by Hizbullah three times since November. Such explosives are clearly illegal and criminal.

At that point, the fence runs south of the international border, completely within Israeli territory. Since the explosives were near the fence, the bulldozer went onto the other side of the fence, while remaining within Israeli territory. It was hit while it was on the north side of the fence but within Israeli territory.

Hizbullah said the bulldozer was in Lebanese territory and had been destroyed by the missile.

The IDF submitted a complaint to the United Nations about the attack. A UNIFIL officer said that he witnessed the missile being fired from Lebanese territory toward the IDF bulldozer.

Hizbullah terrorists were apparently waiting for the IDF to clear the explosives and when the bulldozer crossed the fence line to deal with the remaining bombs, an anti-tank missile scored a direct hit on the vehicle, which burst into flames. The two operators aboard were seriously hurt and one subsequently died of his wounds despite the efforts of paramedics at the scene. The other soldier was evacuated by IAF helicopter to Haifa's Rambam Hospital.

The attack stirred tensions in the north and raised the likelihood of an Israeli military response. OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz said that the IDF was weighing its response and intimated that those on the other side of the border had cause for concern. Israeli security sources said it was not a question of whether Israel would respond to this latest atrocity and violation of the international border, but how and in what strength.

The attack also increased friction between Israel and Syria, which maintains a large military presence in Lebanon and supports Hizbullah.

Syria's president called in December for reopening peace talks with Israel, but Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was cool to the idea.

"If President Assad is intent on making peace, the least he could do is restrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel," said Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon. "The first thing Syria has to do is act against terror."

Before the shooting, Mr. Sharon told a parliamentary committee that it was clear to him that a peace deal with Syria would require Israel to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights.

One Israeli legislator said that Syria is in a weak position, and suggested that Israel might be able to win concessions if talks were held soon.

"Have no illusions," Mr. Gissin quoted Mr. Sharon as saying in the discussion. "The price for full peace with Syria is Israel relinquishing all of the Golan Heights."

Mr. Gissin added, "The prime minister said this as a statement of fact, not as his position in any negotiations."

Mr. Sharon's political supporters and opponents in Israel interpreted his comments as reluctance to pursue new negotiations.

Last week, Israel's president Moshe Katsav invited Mr. Assad to visit Jerusalem, but Syria rejected the offer as a public relations stunt. President Katzav renewed the invitation and the Syrians have not responded. No Syrian leader has ever visited Israel.

Some Israeli officials believe that Syria is making peace overtures now because it is facing increased pressure from the United States in its war against terror. The US has accused Syria of supporting Iraq by sending weaponry during the fighting, by allowing Iraqis to flee into Syria and even now by allowing fighters to infiltrate Iraq along the its common border with Iraq.

In another development, Mr. Gissin said, Israel was reviewing possible adjustments to the separation barrier it is building in the West Bank, which has drawn much criticism abroad.

"We came to the conclusion that we have obtained the optimum level of security in some areas, but there is something to be desired in the living conditions for Palestinians," Mr. Gissin said.

At a strategy meeting to discuss the legal challenges to the fence within Israel and at the International Court at The Hague Prime minister Sharon stressed that Israel may make changes in the route of the fence as a result of its own internal reviews, but not as a response to outside pressures. Sharon said: "We are not discussing a change in the route of the fence, and there will be no change as a result of Palestinian or UN demands, including those from the Court. A re-discussion of the fence's route will take place only as a result of internal Israeli deliberations. The operative experience that has accumulated over the last few months in which the fence was being constructed was both good and bad. It was excellent at preventing terror but was not satisfactory in all matters relating to the damage to Palestinians' quality of life. . . . it is possible that additional thought is needed to allow for the possibility of changing the route, in order to reduce the number of mishaps in operating the fence without harming security."

Israel has made several minor alterations to the barrier. Israel says the barrier is solely a security measure and has no political meaning.


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