Israeli Paraglider Flees Hezbollah After Crossing Lebanese Border

Strong easterly winds blow paraglider over Lebanese border; IDF rescues man before Hezbollah capture him.

Amos Harel
Haaretz Correspondent
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Amos Harel
Haaretz Correspondent

An Israeli paraglider was blown down into Lebanese territory Wednesday, sparking exchanges of gunfire between the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah until he managed to return safely to Israel.

The incident began at about 2:45 P.M., when Adam Wexler, 26, of Tel Aviv, and his friend, Itai Tikserman, 25, went paragliding at Tzuk Manara, a regular paragliding site near Kibbutz Manara. The site is located not far from the Lebanese border, and there were very strong easterly winds on Wednesday.

According to Shimon Elhadad, who manages the restaurant at the site, Wexler waited until the wind had died down before taking off. Evidently, however, the wind was still too strong, because about two minutes later, his paraglider began to drift eastward, toward Lebanon.

Realizing what was happening, Wexler - who according to another employee at the site is a "super professional" paraglider - tried to land. But by the time he succeeded, he was 40 to 50 meters inside Lebanon, near the outskirts of the village of Mis al-Jabal. He immediately called Tikserman and the Tzuk Manara site managers on his cellular phone, and Meir Sagiv, the site's technical director, promply notified the army before heading for the border in his car.

"When we arrived, we saw him, and I told him that he was over the border and advised him to ditch the glider and try to jump over the fence," said Sagiv. "However, he didn't succeed, and he started to become hysterical. He yelled: 'Get me out of here! Get me out of here!'"

At that point, three Hezbollah men, all armed with rifles, drove up, got out of their car and began running toward Wexler. Sagiv promptly told him to abandon his effort to climb the fence and hide under a bush instead. Wexler later told the police that the gunmen came to within three meters of him. "It's frustrating. You see everything happening before your eyes, and you can't do anything," Sagiv said.

Just then, IDF soldiers arrived at the site, and they took the phone from Sagiv and began talking with Wexler. They instructed him to crawl toward a gate in the fence, and some of the soldiers also began crawling toward the gate in order to open it for him. The other soldiers began exchanging fire with the Hezbollah gunmen in order to provide cover for the crawlers on both sides. The exchange of fire caused no casualties.

Wexler eventually reached the fence and re-entered Israeli territory, but only by the skin of his teeth. According to one onlooker, "A mere moment separated Hezbollah from the paraglider."

"The soldiers saved me," Wexler said afterward. "Without them, I wouldn't be alive."

Wexler was then taken to the Kiryat Shmona police station, where investigators cuffed his arms and legs before taking him to be questioned. "He should have anticipated what would happen," said an angry police officer. "This was criminal negligence on his part."

Chief Superintendent Faraj Fares, the station commander, noted that among other failings, Wexler hadn't obtained the necessary permit from the army to paraglide near the border at a time when tension was still high following Monday's major incident. An IDF officer added that Wexler had apparently been given a warning after a similar violation in the past.

Safed Magistrates Court on Thursday rejected a police request to extend Wexler's remand and keep him in custody. He was released on bail.

Despite the renewed tension caused by the incident, the IDF is hopeful that the current round of fighting with Hezbollah has come to an end. The army denied Hezbollah's charge that soldiers had also crossed into Lebanon Wednesday, saying no troops had entered Lebanese territory.

Also Wednesday, the Israel Air Force dropped thousands of leaflets over Lebanon aimed at weakening support for Hezbollah among Lebanese citizens. The leaflets, which bore the Israeli government logo, asked: "Who is lying to you? The ones who are sending your sons into a battle for which you are not prepared, who want to return to ruin and destruction. The ones who are tools in the hands of their Syrian and Iranian masters. Hezbollah is harming Lebanon."

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said that the leaflets, which were prepared by the army's psychological warfare division, were meant to explain to the Lebanese "how Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon down a slippery slope toward a state of war."