Lebanon Bombing Highlights Uncertain Future of Israel's Allies
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The killing on Friday of an Israeli-allied militiaman in southern Lebanon once again highlighted the difficulties facing the mostly Christian South Lebanese Army once Israel withdraws its troops from the area.
A Hizballah suicide bomber drove a vehicle primed to explode to the gate of the outpost early Friday morning, blowing up the vehicle and himself, and causing heavy damage.
Initial reports indicated that four SLA soldiers had been killed but according to an Israeli army statement one was killed, three critically wounded and a fifth moderately injured.
Israeli planes bombarded Hizballah terrorist targets after the incident. Earlier, three SLA and one Israeli soldiers were wounded in a separate shooting attack.
U.N. discusses logistics with Israel
The Hizballah attacks occurred as Israeli leaders continued their discussions on Friday with United Nations officials on the planned Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.
Israeli and U.N. cartographers were due to meet Friday to map out the exact northern border of Israel. U.N. officials have made it clear that Israel may not retain any outposts on Lebanese soil when it redeploys.
U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan's special envoy Terje Larson met with Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister David Levy on Thursday to discuss the withdrawal.
"The hope of the secretary-general and myself as representative for the region is a comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Larsen told reporters after his meeting with Levy.
"I hope the implementation of resolution 425 is the beginning of such a comprehensive peace in the region," Larsen added.
Larson is scheduled to meet officials in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, Damascus, Amman, Cairo and Beirut regarding their reactions to the Israeli pullout, before reporting back to Annan in about two weeks.
He will deliver his assessment to Annan about the need to increase the size of a U.N. force already stationed in south Lebanon from 4,500 to up to 7,000 to fill the vacuum when Israel leaves.
Barak reportedly told Larson that Israel would abide by the 1978 U.N. resolution 425 - which called for an Israeli withdrawal "forthwith" from all Lebanese territory - and would respect Lebanese sovereignty.
He also reiterated to Larson Israel's obligation to help SLA members and said that a solution would be found for most of them on Lebanese territory.
Aiding the SLA
Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron announced on Thursday that one billion shekels ($250 million) would be needed for the first phase of the withdrawal to fortify new positions and adjust the electric border fence.
Yaron told CNSNews.com that the money would come from within the Israeli budget and not from international funds. However, the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz reported that Barak would ask the U.S. for assistance.
In any case, the amount does not include support for the SLA. What will happen to the Israeli-trained, equipped and funded 2500-man militia remains unclear.
Hizballah has threatened retaliation against the mostly Maronite Christian militia for aiding Israel, while the Lebanese government - which considers Hizballah to be freedom fighters - has already tried and sentenced many SLA members and officers as traitors in absentia.
"Israel is obligated to support the SLA," Yaron said. However that includes only humanitarian and not military aid he added.
Israel must "help them to recover in the new situation." If someone wants to leave "we'll see to it that they're helped," Yaron said.
On thousand apartments have already been rented in northern Israel in preparation for any members of the SLA to leave Lebanon if they need to go. SLA commander Antoine Lahad has said that his men will stay and fight rather than become refugees.
However, Yaron said, no one really knows yet how many SLA members will want to come to Israel.
"We hope that most will remain in the area [of south Lebanon.] It's the natural place for them," Yaron said. "[Israel hopes they can] find some kind of solution for them with government of Lebanon."
Hizballah will continue to wage war
Senior Israeli intelligence officers told security cabinet ministers on Thursday that terrorist attacks will likely continue even after Israel withdraws from south Lebanon.
Director of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka, and the head of MI's research section, Brig. Gen. Amos Gilad, said Iran and Syria - Hizballah's supporters - want to see the battle against Israel continue and not for calm to prevail along the Lebanese border.
After the meeting, Regional Development Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying Lebanon must choose "whether it wants one state with one government and one army, or a divided state with many armies."
Peres, architect of the current peace process with the Palestinians, said Hizballah was in effect a "foreign army because it is supported and financed by Iran."