Today, the Israeli cabinet secretary assured the Israeli press corp that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has no plans whatsover to attack intruding Israeli military aircraft. The Israeli official made it cleat that these Israeli overflights of Lebanon are for very limited reconnaissance missions, and that they are not meant to be hostile to the UN force in Southern Lebanon.
However, the Middle East News Line has learned that UN officials said the French contingent of the international peace-keeping force in Lebanon has been on alert for Israeli military overflights. They said French commanders have been preparing anti-aircraft batteries to fire against Israel Air Force warplanes.
“The anti-aircraft unit of the [French] battalion took initial preparatory steps to respond to these actions,” UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said.
Strugar said UNIFIL has reported increasing Israeli violations of Lebanon’s air space over the last week. He said 17 Israeli air violations were recorded on November 17, most of them over the area deployed by the French battalion.
This was the first time UNIFIL, comprised of 9,000 peace-keepers, warned of attacks on Israeli warplanes. On November 13, France reported that its contingent in Lebanon nearly fired surface-to-air missiles against Israeli aircraft on October 31.
“They stipulate that in implementing their mandate, all UNIFIL troops may exercise the inherent right of self-defense and take all necessary action to protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment,” Strugar told Agence France-Presse.
Israel has acknowledged air operations in Lebanon. Israeli officials said UNIFIL has failed to stop the flow of weapons from Syria to Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon.
Over the weekend, UNIFIL reported the capture of 17 Katyusha-class rockets in Lebanon. A UN spokesman said the Lebanese Army was alerted.
The UN has reported overflights by Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-jets trhoughout November. In one violation, Israel sent two Israeli reconnaissance RC12 aircraft near Tyre, the headquarters of the French battalion.
Over the weekend, Lebanese media reported Israeli air operations and mock attacks around the southern Lebanese towns of Jezzine, Nabatiya and Tufah.