Israel Returns Fire, Four Lebanese Reported Dead

Lt. Col. (res. ) Dov Harari was killed on the Lebanese border yesterday and another officer seriously wounded in what the Israel Defense Forces says was apparently a planned ambush.


The incident began at about 8 A.M., when IDF Northern Command informed UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, that it planned to clear vegetation along the border fence that was disrupting its soldiers' line of sight - an operation the IDF termed "routine maintenance," of the type it performs regularly.

UNIFIL asked the IDF to delay the operation on the grounds that the force's commander was then in New York. But the IDF did not see this as valid grounds for delay, so at 10:30 A.M. the work began.

IDF officers stressed that the entire operation was not only within Israeli territory, but on Israel's side of the fence. In some places, the fence does not run exactly along the international border, so an operation north of the fence could still be within Israeli territory, but be misperceived by the Lebanese as being within their territory.

In this case, however, no such grounds for confusion existed: The truck was clearly on Israel's side of the fence, the IDF said, with only the crane mounted atop it reaching over - and still well within the 70 meters of Israeli territory that lie north of the fence at that spot, near Kibbutz Misgav Am.

UNIFIL, as is the norm, had informed the Lebanese Army of the planned operation, and a Lebanese force was sent to observe from its side of the border. Some of the Lebanese troops began cursing the IDF soldiers and shouting at them to leave, but the Israelis did not respond.

A few minutes later, at about 12:10 P.M., the IDF battalion and company commanders - who were supervising the truck's work from a lookout post about 100 meters away - suddenly came under sniper fire from a house east of the Lebanese village of Adeisa. Harari, the battalion commander, was hit in the head and Capt. Ezra Lakiya, the company commander, in the chest. Lakiya is now being treated at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

The IDF said such an ambush would probably have been prepared two or three hours in advance.

In response, the IDF soldiers and an IDF tank opened fire, and the Lebanese soldiers fled. An IDF artillery battery then targeted three nearby Lebanese Army outposts.

At that point, UNIFIL asked the IDF to cease its fire so the wounded could be evacuated, and at 1:20 P.M., the IDF complied.

At about 2 P.M., however, Lebanese soldiers fired four rocket-propelled grenades at an IDF tank. They missed their target, but the IDF responded: A helicopter fired several missiles at a Lebanese Army battalion headquarters deeper inside Lebanon.

Four Lebanese were killed in that attack - three soldiers and a journalist - and about 10 people were wounded. The air strike also destroyed several Lebanese Army vehicles and set some houses on fire.

A senior IDF officer said last night that intelligence information indicates the ambush was planned and carried out on the orders of a Lebanese company commander. The Lebanese Army's high command, he said, apparently did order the troops to create an incident to impress the various media outlets present, but told them only to fire in the air. The local commander then decided on his own initiative to escalate the incident by targeting the Israeli soldiers directly.

Hezbollah played no role in the incident at all, the IDF said, though it has increasingly been cooperating with the Lebanese Army.

This is the second time since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 that Israeli soldiers have clashed with Lebanese soldiers, but this incident was far more deadly than the last, in 2007. For the last two or three months, the Lebanese Army has been taking a "provocative approach" along the border, IDF sources said, with ordinary soldiers often aiming their rifles at IDF troops and senior officers indulging in harsh anti-Israel rhetoric.