After last Tuesday’s incident on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Western states hastened to call for calm and restraint on both sides. The implicit message was that the West sought to avoid another Israel-Lebanon war. Yet war is precisely where Western inaction is inexorably leading.
By Wednesday, UNIFIL had already announced its unequivocal findings: not only did the Lebanese shoot first, with no provocation, but the Israeli soldiers they targeted — killing one and seriously wounding another — were all on Israel’s side of the border. At no point did any Israelis stray, as Lebanon had claimed, into Lebanese territory. Moreover, the attackers were regular Lebanese Army soldiers, not Hezbollah terrorists for whom the government could disclaim responsibility.
But the border is unmarked at that point, lying some 70 meters north of the fence Israel built, and the Israelis were clearing vegetation between the fence and the border. So had Lebanon simply apologized and said it was an honest mistake — that its soldiers erroneously thought the Israelis were violating its sovereignty — there might have been justification for letting the incident slide.
But that isn’t what Beirut said. Instead, Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri announced that Lebanon doesn’t recognize the international border (the so-called Blue Line) at that point; it claims additional territory south of the line. In short, far from apologizing and promising to respect the Blue Line henceforth, Lebanon’s government announced that its policy is to ignore the international border wherever it disputes the UN demarcation.
As UNIFIL noted, both Israel and Lebanon dispute this demarcation at various points, but both had pledged to respect it until those disputes were resolved. Now Beirut has essentially renounced that pledge.
Moreover, there is strong evidence that the shooting was planned in advance — namely, the presence of numerous Lebanese journalists, including the one from the daily Al-Akhbar who was killed when Israel returned fire. Mainstream Lebanese journalists don’t normally flock to the border to watch Israeli soldiers do routine tree-trimming. That so many were there last Tuesday indicates they had been told to expect action.
To sum up, Lebanon’s official army launched a planned, unprovoked attack on Israel. Lebanon’s government not only endorsed the attack but also proudly proclaimed its contempt for the international border. This stance elicited predictable cheers from radicals like Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and even “moderates” like Jordan backed it.
But from the West, there has been nothing except evenhanded calls for restraint on both sides: no blistering condemnations, no urgent Security Council deliberations, no demands for an international investigation, no threats of, say, reducing Western military aid to Lebanon.
Thus the lesson for Beirut is that such incidents are all gain, no pain: by attacking Israel, it can earn credit and breathing space from the radicals — a serious concern for a government that exists only at their mercy — without incurring any penalties whatsoever from the West. That gives it a strong incentive to launch additional attacks.
Eventually, it may well go too far, sparking another Israel-Lebanon war. And the West will have only itself to blame.