More than two weeks after the end of the war, there are increasing calls in the Israeli armed forces to “leave Lebanon as quickly as possible,” because of concern that local clashes with Hezbollah could deteriorate into a rekindling of the fighting and an end to the cease-fire.
Now that UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon have been greatly beefed up, and are expected to reach 5,000 soldiers by the end of the week, some IDF officials said that the IDF withdrawal is “very close.”
Security sources also said that the pullout is not dependent on the arrival of the 15,000 soldiers meant to form the multi-national force, as Israel first stated.
The withdrawal of six IDF brigades – four infantry and two from the Armored Corps – from southern Lebanon is expected to take place in the next week or two. Military sources said the troops would be returned to the international border in one move.
At the same time, the IDF yesterday proposed to the Lebanese army, by means of the U.N., to place its positions on the border with Israel. The Lebanese rejected the initiative, and sent a message saying they prefer for there to be a narrow strip between their troops and the IDF in which only UNIFIL deploys.
It appears that German troops will agree to coach the Lebanese army for deploying on the border crossings with Syria, where there is meant to be supervision to prevent arms smuggling from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah. Germany is unwilling for German soldiers to do the supervision themselves, but Israel relayed a message saying that the establishment of a Lebanese mechanism for effective supervision of the official border crossings is a condition for its removing the aerial and naval blockade it put on Lebanon at the beginning of the war.
Nevertheless, informally, Israeli sources say that, even if the Lebanese army establishes effective crossing checks, with German coaching, this would not prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah through dozens of other land crossings.
U.S. CONSIDERS SPECIAL WAR GRANT TO ISRAEL
A high-ranking American official has told the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, that the U.S. does not rule out the possibility of granting Israel special financial aid following the war.
“The United States has not received any request from Israel for additional defense aid following the war in Lebanon, but if such a request is received, we will treat it with the utmost seriousness,” the official said Wednesday. Israel receives a grant of USD 2.2 billion per year from the United States to purchase arms and defense equipment, but the official opened the door to a request by Israel for additional aid.
JESSE JACKSON WORKED ON ISRAEL’S BEHALF IN LEBANON AND IN SYRIA
In a new twist of fate, Jesse Jackson, whose career has not been noted as supportive of Israel, traveled to Lebanon and to Syria on Israel’s behalf in order to bring back new information about the condition of the kidnapped soldiers.
Before Jackson went to the Middle East, he was briefed by the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Danny Ayalon. Jackson contacted the ambassador two weeks ago, offering his help in negotiations to free the soldiers.
Ayalon did not give Jackson official authority to conduct talks, but asked him to meet with Hamas political bureau director Khaled Mashal in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese Prime MinisterFouad Siniora. The goal was to get a sign of life from the kidnapped soldiers, or at least some information regarding their fate. Jackson was also asked to pass on a careful message saying: “Before any negotiations for the release of the soldiers, Hezbollah must hand them over to the Lebanese government.”
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Jackson kept in direct contact with high-ranking Israeli officials during his mission in Syria and in Lebanon. After every meeting, he gave Ambassador Ayalon, who is currently in Israel, updates by telephone. Immediately after the meeting with Mashal, Jackson told Ayalon: “I am convinced that the kidnapped soldiers are alive. That is what they told me.”
At the end of the meeting with Assad, Jackson said: “The Syrian President said that the soldiers are alive, and added that he would like to sever connections with Hezbollah but is forced to cooperate with them.”
Ambassador Ayalon commented last night: “We knew about Jackson’s trip to the Middle East, and it was even coordinated with us, but Jackson is not Israel’s emissary in any way, shape or form.”
Jackson arrived in Israel Wednesday and met with the families of the kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit. During a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport, Jackson said that the meetings he had indicate that the three soldiers are alive.
©The Bulletin 2006