Israeli air force jets buzzed Beirut and the predominantly Shi'a suburb of Dahiya yesterday, as Lebanese army units fired anti-aircraft guns against them, to no avail. The incident occurred while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was touring the northern border.
Lebanese sources reported that eight Israeli fighters were seen in the skies over the capital Beirut, and in Tyre and Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon. According to the same sources, the jets flew over Beirut six times, and dropped flares, which are meant to divert heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
An IDF spokesman said that the army does not normally discuss the purpose of its operations, but military sources said that Israel intends to carry on with the overflights of Lebanon so long as Security Council Resolution 1701 is not carried out in its entirety.
Security Council Resolution 1701 authorized the deployment of the expanded 15,000-strong force of UN peacekeepers to patrol southern Lebanon with the Lebanese army to prevent further violence. It also called for Israel's withdrawal, the disarmament of Hezbollah and other armed groups, and the establishment of control over the south by the Lebanese government.
The IDF sources said that the aircraft did not attempt to carry out an attack or an assassination attempt.
Some analysts have raised the possibility that the overflights were linked to an address that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah was scheduled to deliver in Beirut yesterday afternoon.
In a pre-recorded interview aired yesterday, Nasrallah said that the United States has failed in Iraq and that animosity in the Arab world against Washington should not be blamed on Islamic extremism.
In his first appearance since speaking at a "victory" rally in south Beirut in September, Nasrallah accused the United States of being responsible for continued violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and predicted that the U.S. would be forced to leave the region in the future - just as it left Vietnam after the war there three decades ago.
Nasrallah did not mention Israel in his address.
The United Nations Interim Force in Southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) issued a statement yesterday saying that during the past two days Israeli aircraft had violated Lebanese airspace on eight occasions.
The UN called on Israel to cease its overflights, saying that they "constitute a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701."
The European Union also called on Israel yesterday to respect Lebanon's borders, and diplomats warned that overflights of Beirut could encourage Syria and others to violate Resolution 1701.
"We want to see the full implementation" of the resolution, EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said. "We think that is also very much in Israel's interest."
"We call on Israel to put an end to these overflights and we call on all partners to refrain from any act that could maintain or increase tension," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei, in Paris.
PM goes North
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited the northern border, accompanied by Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. At the headquarters of Division 91, Olmert said that the IDF is capable of learning from its mistakes.
"My impression is that we have a more mature, more responsible IDF, an IDF that knows how to recognize mistakes and learn from them," Olmert said.
Olmert also said that the war in Lebanon succeeded in distancing Hezbollah from Israel's border.
"Before the war began, the Hezbollah posts were 15 meters away from the border, Hezbollah members were a handbreadth away from the fence," the prime minister said.
"That situation no longer exists, and Hezbollah is located a very great distance from the border, and instead there are the soldiers of the Lebanese army and the international force."
However, officers with whom Olmert met said that Hezbollah would attempt to return to the border, and predicted a renewed confrontation with Hezbollah.
The commanders said soldiers who fought in Lebanon did not receive sufficient training and suffered from a shortage of supplies and outdated helmets. Furthermore, they said they did not understand why, despite winning battles and fighting bravely, they were confronted with accusations of failure upon their return.
"If there is no IDF, there is no state," Olmert said. "From the public's perspective, everyone can fail, except for the army. And that gap between the enormous expectations and the results, which included accomplishments as well as shortcomings, generates very great frustration."
Olmert said it was important for him to speak to junior officers, so he could "hear from them how they are overcoming the difficulties and the failures, and how they are drawing conclusions so that when the time comes, far or near, they will be ready, at full strength, to defend the residents of the North."
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