Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will bring to a vote Wednesday before the cabinet an Israeli pullback from one of the most sensitive points along the border with Lebanon, Israeli officials said Monday.
The call to pull out of the northern portion of the village of Ghajar is surprising, considering the number of times in the past the two men have criticized the unilateral withdrawals from the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.
Netanyahu also declared on a number of occasions during the past year that Israel will not be able to rely on international forces to defend its borders, for example after a future establishment of a Palestinian state.
Still, this does not seem to deter him from pulling out of the northern portion of Ghajar without an agreement with the Lebanese government. Control of the territory would then be transferred to the UNIFIL, which would also be responsible for preventing terrorists and criminals from crossing through the village.
During the past two years Israel and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon have been conducting ongoing negotiations over the village's security arrangements, as well as regulations that would allow the residents of the northern portion of the village, who are Israeli citizens, to continue receiving essential services from Israel.
In September, it was concluded that the government of Lebanon was not interested in participating in the withdrawal from Ghajar under the framework being negotiated. Moreover, a series of problems emerged related to the civilian arrangements, which were not properly dealt with. The U.S. government was also pressuring Israel to pull back from the territory.
UNIFIL Commander, Spanish General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, then put forth a new proposal which essentially did away with the two years of negotiations and called to restore the status quo that had existed in the village prior to the Second Lebanon War in July 2006.
According to his plan, the northern part of Ghajar would become a buffer zone in which neither IDF nor UNIFIL forces would be based. The IDF forces would secure the border with Israel only in the southern portion of the village, and the UNIFIL forces would be deployed outside the northern portion of the village, inside Lebanon. This arrangement would mean no security control over the northern section of the village.
Prior to 2006, the northern portion of the village was considered a serious security "hole" in which militant and criminal activity on the part of Hezbollah and drug traffickers was discernible. In November 2005, Hezbollah tried to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the area, but the attempt was foiled and IDF troops killed four Hezbollah fighters.
Even though northern Ghajar is considered a security weak point, at this stage there are no measures in place that aim to prevent any penetration by Hezbollah militants into the village, except the promises of UNIFIL.
Netanyahu has been critical on a number of occasions of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which gave UNIFIL the mandate over security in southern Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War.
The cabinet is expected to authorize the IDF and the Foreign Ministry to embark on intensive talks with UNIFIL on setting up security arrangements in the area, and then report back to the cabinet within 30 days. At the end of the talks, the cabinet will set the precise date for an IDF withdrawal, officials said.
The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment.
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