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The Lekarev Report - Israel News July 15, 2008

peak.jpgIranian Presence on Lebanese Peak Causes High Alert

Israel has placed its military and air forces on its northern borders on high alert after Iran and Syria ignored Jerusalem's warning, relayed to Washington, that the continued presence of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah officers on the strategic Lebanese Sannine peak may spark a military clash.

Monday, July 14, two days ahead of the prisoner swap with Hizballah, Israel's army spokesmen disclosed that Iranian officers had assumed command of Hizballah's fighting units.

Our military sources report that the disclosure, which further fueled the cross-border tension, referred to the Iranian officers in command of Hizballah teams atop the 7,800-foot Mt. Sannine peak, from which they can monitor and menace US Sixth Fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean as well as Israeli Air Force flights.

Iranian officers have also been attached to Hizballah's anti-air, surface, and shore-to-ship missile units across Lebanon.

All Israel's military, police and security contingents are also on the ready in case of trouble flaring immediately after Israel and Hizballah exchange prisoners Wednesday. They estimate that once the exchange is out of the way, Hizballah will unleash a cross-border assault and terrorist action inside Israel, its promised revenge for the killing of their military commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last February for which they blame Israel.

Israel's restraint against Hamas' missiles campaign from Gaza, despite repeated threats, has left Hizballah and Tehran unmoved by its warning on Lebanon.

arch.jpgHizbollah's "Truimphal Arch" 

Victory celebrations are being prepared in Lebanon for the return of terrorist, Samir Kuntar, whose release from Israeli prison is part of the terms for the return to Israel of the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the IDF soldiers kidnapped in July 2006.

Hizbullah members set up a "triumphal arch" near the Rosh Hanikra crossing, where the exchange is scheduled to take place tomorrow. 

The yellow arch, which bears the pictures of assassinated Hizbullah commander Imad Mugniyah, has been erected in several places in southern Lebanon. 

Israeli officials are deeply concerned  that after the deal is implemented, Hizbullah will attempt to carry out its promise to avenge the death of Mugniyah, who was responsible for a series of terror attacks in the region and worldwide.
 
Hizbullah flags and victory photos have been hung all along the Lebanese coastal highway which connects the northern border of Israel and the Lebanese city of Sidon.

Celebrations will be held in three places - in Naquora (on the Lebanese side of the Rosh Hanikra border crossing) upon receiving the bodies of some 200 terrorists to be handed over by Israel; in Beirut's international airport, where five Lebanese prisoners - including terrorist Samir Kuntar - will arrive via helicopter; and in Beirut's Dahiya quarter, which will host a mass rally including a speech by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

Hizbullah's al-Manar network has begun celebrating with militant, festive video clips, marking "the 33 days of victory" (referring to the Second Lebanon War). The clips feature Nasrallah's speech immediately after the two IDF soldiers were kidnapped, in which he declares that the two will be released in exchange for Kuntar and the other prisoners, and remarks made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the start of the war.

Al-Manar's website is also celebrating the "victory".  At the beginning of its reports on the preparations in Lebanon, the website reminds its readers that "in these very days in 2006, the 'resistance' crushed the arrogance and aggressiveness of the occupation, and these days it completes its victory and returns the brave prisoners to Lebanon."
 
farms.jpgIsrael Closely Monitoring Shabaa Farms

Israel is closely following movements by the Lebanese Armed Forces, which recently paved a road and began constructing a number of military posts in the Shaba Farms/Mount Dov area for the first time since Israel's withdrawal from that part of Lebanon in 2000.

This map shows the Israel-Syria-Lebanon border. The Shaba Farms are outlined in red.

Explanations for the unprecedented move differ in the IDF, with some high-ranking officers raising concerns that the posts being built by the LAF will become borderline positions that can facilitate Hizbullah in future attacks against Israel.   "In the event of a war with Israel, LAF positions could be used by Hizbullah, since many of them are situated where Hizbullah outposts used to be," one senior official said.

Another interpretation of the move by officers in the IDF Foreign Liaison Unit was that the Lebanese forces was making a claim of ownership over the area, doing what Israel has asked it to do for the past 30 years - to take control of southern Lebanon.

"It is in Israel's interest that Lebanon deploy its military throughout the country," one senior IDF officer said.

Concern has grown since Sunday when Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said at the Paris meeting of the Mediterranean Union that should diplomacy fail to return "Israeli-occupied land" to Lebanon, the Lebanese Armed Forces will take it by force.

Suleiman was speaking at a press conference after meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of the summit. 
 
46.jpgIDF Prepares for Goldwasser, Regev Funerals

As families of the captive reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev held on to fading hopes that their sons might still be alive, the IDF began yesterday making preparations for their burial.

Expecting that the two men, abducted on the border by Hizbullah just over two years ago, could be returned to Israel in coffins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the army has made arrangements for their military funerals to be held on Thursday, one day after the planned prisoner swap with Hizbullah.

IDF sources said it was likely that the funerals would be held in Regev and Goldwasser's hometowns of Kiryat Motzkin and Nahariya.

In contrast to the IDF, the International Red Cross plans to post a doctor on either side of the border to provide treatment if needed, its spokeswoman Yael Segev-Eitan told The Jerusalem Post.

"We have no indication of what to expect, so we have made preparations for either eventuality," Segev-Eitan said. "A doctor will wait on the Lebanese side of the border and another doctor will wait on the Israeli side," she said. "Our Lebanon mission has not received any orders yet."

The International Red Cross, therefore, is preparing to "receive live men or, God forbid, the bodies" and transport them across the Rosh Hanikra border crossing on Wednesday, she said.


nohandshake.jpgClose Enough to Touch, but No Handshake

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad's rendezvous in Paris ended on Monday with the two standing but a few feet apart, but not a word passed between them.

At the conclusion of the annual Bastille Day Parade, Olmert and Assad stood about a meter apart on a grandstand set up at the Champs-Elysees, greeting other leaders but also obviously very aware of each other's presence.  As Assad moved to his left, Olmert gravitated in that direction as well. All the while, Assad pretended Olmert wasn't there.

At one point UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon motioned to Olmert to come shake Assad's hand, but Olmert raised his hands as if indicating that if Assad wasn't interested, neither was he.

While Olmert was hugging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Assad passed directly behind him, and the photographers, realizing that the potential of a historic picture was within their lenses, shouted "Ooh la la."

But Olmert did not turn around, Assad did not tap him lightly on the shoulder, and the Mediterranean Union summit ended without the much anticipated historic handshake. 


kidnapping.jpgNew Report: One Soldier Died at Time of Kidnapping
The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported this morning that at least one of the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers set to be returned tomorrow in a prisoner exchange with the Hezbollah was killed at the time of his abduction, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Tuesday.

The report, which did not state if it had been Udi Goldwasser or Eldad Regev who was killed, said that the other soldier was injured in the kidnapping operation, but it added that his condition was unknown.  According to Al-Akhbar, four squads of Hezbollah fighters took part in the operation. One squad was responsible for mortar fire, a second provided cobvering fire with small arms and larger weaponry, and a third fired in the direction of IDF emplacements in the area.

The fourth squad had the most important role, penetrating into Israeli territory with stretchers and loading the two soldiers on to a civilian vehicle which took them to a nearby location, where the vehicle was exchanged for another.

"It was clear that one of the soldiers was dead," the report said.

As the operation began, an IDF force that was operating in the area was riding in two Hummer jeeps. Hezbollah's aim was to take the soldiers in the first vehicle captive, without having the vehicle burn completely. The squad responsible for the kidnapping had also trained for the possibility that the doors of the jeep would be locked.

The rocket-propelled grenades fired at the Hummer struck the side on which Goldwasser and Regec were sitting, wounding both. They were taken out by the Hezbollah squad, while two other IDF soldiers got out of the jeep and fled to an adjacent wooded area.

A Hezbollah "clean-up squad" then came to the site, dousing the jeep with gasoline and burning it, in order to hide evidence that might have shed light on the incident.

46.jpgFinal Cabinet Vote on Prisoner Exchange

The cabinet began its final deliberations this morning on whether to approve a deal to exchange Lebanese prisoners jailed in Israel for the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers captured by Hezbollah in 2006.

The exchange is expected to be approved despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pronouncement on Monday that Hezbollah has submitted an "absolutely unsatisfactory" report on what happened to Israeli airman Ron Arad, who disappeared in Lebanon 22 years ago.

Minister Eli Yishai called on the government to approve the deal, regardless of the report on Arad.

"The cabinet must ratify the prisoner exchange deal today and bring our sons home," Yishai said. "I am sure that if it were possible to return Ron Arad, the Goldwasser and Regev families would not prevent it. The deal today will not endanger the well-being of Gilad Shalit, and it must be approved immediately."

Israeli sympathies are with the Goldwasser and Regev families and hope that their two year nightmare will be over tomorrow. 


Shalom and blessings,

Leah 

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