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IAF Reconnaissance Flights in Lebanon to Continue

Citing increased concerns over Hizbullah activities on the ground, the IAF says it will continue to fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon despite protests from the international community.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 10/23/2006, 2:19 PM / Last Update: 10/23/2006, 4:00 PM

Intelligence gathered by the sorties has revealed that Hizbullah is rebuilding its infrastructure, Israeli defense establishment source say. The terrorist activity comes despite the alleged supervision of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the regular Lebanese Army.

Both forces are charged under U.N. Resolution 1701 with preventing the terror organization from rebuilding and rearming, although neither has succeeded. UNIFIL officials warned, however, they will shoot down Israeli patrol planes that fly over Lebanese territory to gather intelligence about the activity.

According to a Western diplomat quoted by the Middle East News Line (MENL) news service, UNIFIL has acquired advance surface-to-air (SAM) missiles which they have now threatened to use against the IAF fighter jets. “Israel has received such warnings and have taken them very seriously,” said the unnamed diplomat.

Despite the UNIFIL threats, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that the surveillance flights will continue in light of the fact that arms are still being sent to Hizbullah terrorists from Syria and Iran. It is clear that the United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution negotiated on August 14th "is not [being] implemented," said Peretz, leaving Israel no choice but to fly over Lebanon.

An unnamed defense official said the lack of current intelligence information compromised the IDF’s ability to successfully wage war against the terrorists. He added that the missions are considered as flights over enemy territory. “Lebanon is still an enemy and the guidelines have remained that way in order to reduce the risks involved.”

The official cited the lack of surveillance flights in the six years after Israel pulled out of Lebanon as a partial cause for the outcome of the war this summer. “The fact we did not fly over Lebanon in recent years and only conducted sorties close to the border probably caused gaps in our intelligence,” said the official quoted by the Ynet news service. “It is difficult to estimate the effect [these gaps] had on the war,” he said.

“The accumulating intelligence in our hands points to a rising effort to transfer arms," Peretz noted in response to UNIFIL claims that the sorties constitute a violation of the ceasefire agreement. The U.N. resolution states that the area south of the Litani River is to remain a weapons-free zone.

Israeli Air Force planes conducted mock raids over southern Lebanon on Monday, hours after the French defense minister called air surveillance over the area a violation of Lebanon's air space. Minister Michele Alliot-Marie called the surveillance flights "extremely dangerous" because they could be mistaken as a raid on Hizbullah, resulting in the possibility that United Nations troops would try to bring down the planes.