Sunday 18 February 2018

Fighting over spruce sums up volatility of this troubled region

Robert Fisk in Beirut

CAN A tree start a Middle East war? It almost did yesterday.

That such a question can be asked is a symbol of the incendiary state of the region, the mutual distrust of Arabs and Israelis, and the dangerous border of southern Lebanon which was -- as so often -- drenched in the blood of three Lebanese soldiers, an Israeli lieutenant-colonel and a Lebanese journalist outside an otherwise nondescript village called Addaiseh.

And after the tank shells, Israeli helicopter missile attacks, Lebanese machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, the UN called for "restraint" and the battle died down under the eyes of a Spanish UN battalion and a few soldiers from Malaysia.

But this comes after a tripartite Arab summit in Beirut, mysterious rocket attacks on the borders of Jordan, Israel and Egypt two days ago, a claim by the Lebanese Hizbollah that the UN inquiry into the murder of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri was an "Israeli project", and the discovery of yet another alleged Israeli spy in the Lebanese telephone network.

But back to the tree. It was a miserable, scrawny thing, probably a spruce and -- after a 46-degree heatwave in Lebanon -- its foliage blocked the Israeli security cameras near Addaiseh. The Israelis decided to use a crane to rip it out. But no one is exactly sure where the Israeli-Lebanese border is. In 2000, the UN drew a "Blue Line" along what was the frontier between French mandate Lebanon and British mandate Palestine.

Behind it, from the Lebanese point of view, stands the Israeli "technical fence", a mass of barbed and electrified wire and sandy roads (to look for footprints). So when the Lebanese army saw the Israelis manoeuvre a crane up to the fence yesterday , they began to shout at the Israelis to move back.


The moment the crane's arm crossed the "technical fence" -- and the "Blue Line" does not necessarily run along the "fence" -- Lebanese soldiers opened fire into the air. The Israelis, according to the Lebanese, did not shoot in the air. They shot at the Lebanese soldiers.

Briefly, Lebanon's much-abused mobile-phone system almost collapsed. Not because of Milad Ein, the alleged spy who worked for the Ogero landline communications company.

But because everyone wanted to know if another war was about to start. Because of a tree. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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