Jerusalem Post- 19/07/2009
The explosions in a Hizbullah arms storage facility in the south Lebanese village of Khirbat a-Silm on Tuesday are testimony to the successful efforts of this organization to rebuild its strength south of the Litani River. This success has come although UN Security Council Resolution 1701 expressly forbids a Hizbullah armed presence south of the Litani, and despite the presence of two military forces in the area supposedly committed to ensuring the implementation of the resolution – UNIFIL, and a contingent of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Following the explosion, the Lebanese army maintained that it took place at a facility dating from before July 2006. Hizbullah, for its part, initially tried to claim that the explosions were of Israeli cluster bombs scattered in the area during the 2006 war. The organization is now keeping silent on the matter.
According to the Lebanese media, Hizbullah members deployed in the area following the blast, preventing civilians from entering, as the army and security services began their “investigation.” The explosion came as the Lebanese army was busy focusing on a different threat to national security – namely, violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli forces close to the international border (the “Blue Line”). According to Lebanese media reports, a clash between Lebanese and Israeli forces was narrowly avoided earlier this week, after the Lebanese authorities demanded the removal of an Israeli observation post near the village of Kafr Shuba, which is situated just northeast of the Shaba Farms (Mount Dov).
The Israeli activities appear to be a matter of far greater urgency to the Lebanese authorities than is the ongoing buildup by Hizbullah of its forces. The Lebanese ambassador to the UN recently sent a list of Israeli violations of the Blue Line to the UN Security Council. Among the various violations of Lebanese sovereignty, according to one Lebanese media report, is the crossing of Israeli cows into Lebanon to drink from a watering hole near Kafr Shuba. Against threats of this gravity, the Lebanese army remains ever vigilant. However, when it comes to enforcing Resolution 1701 with regard to Hizbullah, it appears that different standards are maintained.
The Lebanese army’s division of its energies should not come as a surprise. The Lebanese military, in its own words, as seen on its official Web site, regards Israel as its “primary antagonist and enemy.” Regarding Hizbullah, by contrast, despite its supposed role in ensuring that the organization does not rearm south of the Litani, the Lebanese army is an overt supporter of the movement’s right to “resist.” Again, according to the army’s Web site, “the Lebanese Resistance against the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territories is a legal right which ends only with withdrawal of occupation.” And which parts of Lebanon are still occupied by Israel? The Web site of the Lebanese Armed Forces considers that “the enemy is still located on the Shaba Farms, in places of great strategic and economic significance. Therefore, the Lebanese have the right to fight the enemy until it withdraws.”
In practice, relations between the Lebanese army and Hizbullah have been less idyllic than this statement of shared intent might imply. Tensions, however, where they have arisen, have come more as a result of overlapping boundaries than out of a determination by the Lebanese army to fulfill Resolution 1701. The most notable example was the shooting down by Hizbullah of an Lebanese army Gazelle helicopter which entered a Hizbullah “security zone” in August 2008, which killed the navigator. The incident, which had no practical repercussions for Hizbullah, indicated the relative balance of power between the two fraternal forces.
While each recognizes the rights of the other as a legitimate military force, the Lebanese army is encouraged not to stray too close to the activities of the “resistance.” The insertion into Resolution 1701 of a clause facilitating the entry of the Lebanese army into the area south of the Litani River after the 2006 war was presented by the Olmert government of the time as a major achievement. The claim was not entirely baseless. The presence of the army in the south has led to at least a greater semblance of normality along the border. Some achievements have been recorded, in cooperation with UNIFIL – particularly in locating ordnance in rural areas. But the explosion at Khirbat a-Silm, combined with the Lebanese army’s ambiguous response, says it all regarding the failure to prevent, or to seriously attempt to prevent, Hizbullah’s rearming south of the Litani. The undertaking of this mission would go against the very nature of the Lebanese army. The Lebanese army’s officer corps is 30 percent Shi’ite. The majority of its rank and file also belongs to this sect. It is thus a force neither willing nor able to take the necessary measures against the independent military structure maintained by Hizbullah on Lebanese soil.
Hizbullah’s mishap should serve to remind Israeli policy-makers that the security of the residents of the North will be maintained only by effective deterrence, or failing that, effective countermeasures. The Lebanese army, meanwhile, will busy itself challenging the true enemies of Lebanon – namely, the Zionist cows who covet the pure waters of the Kafr Shuba pond.