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February 26, 2010

Lebanonwire

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Israel's incessant overflights heighten Lebanon tensions
Analysts suspect Tel Aviv updating intelligence

By Patrick Galey, Daily Star

BEIRUT - Israeli warplanes performed incessant maneuvers over Lebanese airspace on Wednesday evening, in operations labeled inflammatory by United Nations officials.

The Lebanese Army issued a statement Thursday morning detailing the extent of overflights, noise from which could be heard across large swathes of the country.

“Continuing their violations of Lebanese sovereignty and [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701, Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace … beginning at 21:05 until 6:25, circling at a medium altitude over various parts of Lebanon,” the statement said.

Israeli jets could also be seen over the area of Jezzine and parts of the Bekaa Valley on Thursday morning.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, following a meeting with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Security Council in New York, expressed his “continuing concern” over Wednesday night’s operations.

“[Ban] also urged an end to Israeli overflights and expressed his continuing concern at the lack of progress over the disarmament of armed groups in Lebanon,” the secretary general’s spokesperson added.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) joined the condemnation of Israel’s flouting of international law, accusing it of increasing local tensions.

“Israel’s overflights not only constitute repeated violations of Resolution 1701 and of Lebanese sovereignty, but also exacerbate local apprehensions and are in contravention of UNIFIL’s objectives and efforts to reduce tensions and establish a stable security environment in south Lebanon,” said UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh.

“UNIFIL strongly protests the violation of Lebanese airspace to [Israel] and requests they cease immediately. UNIFIL also reports each and every violation to the UN Security Council through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.”

Resolution 1701 was drafted to end Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and stipulates that Lebanon’s sovereign borders be respected. Since the brokering of a ceasefire, Israel has repeatedly conducted reconnaissance missions over much of Lebanon in maneuvers it claims are necessary to keep tabs on Hizbullah’s activity.

Retired army General Elias Hanna said Israel’s intensive activity throughout Wednesday night had several purposes.

“It’s updating the intelligence, to see if there’s any movement; it’s about reassessing and changing intelligence,” he said. “It’s a part of a major war if it should happen in the future. It’s also trying out new pilots.

“Israel can’t keep up this type of intensity unless there is something, unless they have information and they are trying to assess the veracity of this information.”

Former long-term UNIFIL adviser Timur Goksel said that the overflights meant “that there is an activity of some sort” of interest to the Israeli Air Force in Lebanon. He also pointed out the muscle-flexing encompassed in regular overflights.

“[Israel] says the UN complains about [violations] when Hizbullah is arming and active and so they will keep on doing this,” he said. “It’s a display of power because there is nobody challenging and there is nothing to stop them doing this.”

Hanna said that such violations were intended to send a message to Israel’s enemies throughout the region.

“You have to put it in with the saber-rattling that has been going on [with Iran and Syria.] It’s a message to the UN and the US that if they don’t put more pressure on Iran [Israel] can do something in Lebanon,” he said.

“It’s telling Hizbullah that Israel has the means to fight day and night,” Hanna added.

Lebanon regularly complains to the UN concerning violations of its territories, yet Israeli maneuvers over Lebanese airspace continue unabated.

The 12th interim report on the implementation of Resolution 1701 is expected to be issued by the Security Council in the coming days and will likely list Israeli overflights and arms possession by non-state actors in Lebanon as serious violations of international law. -Daily Star

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