Lebanon News

Israel taking advantage of Blue Line anomaly

An extract from a 1:50,000 scale Italian army map of south Lebanon used by the Italian UNIFIL battalion showing the Blue Line's deviation from Lebanon's internationally-recognized southern border around the Israeli army's "Radar" outpost.

BEIRUT: An alleged breach of the Blue Line by Israeli troops near Kfar Shuba has exposed a little known anomaly about the United Nations-delineated boundary of withdrawal that spared the Israeli army from having to dismantle three of its outposts in the Shebaa Farms 15 years ago.

The Lebanese Army Tuesday said in a statement that two Israeli bulldozers, a Merkava tank and some 25 soldiers had crossed the technical fence on the outskirts of Kfar Shuba in the early morning and destroyed an abandoned hut before retreating. The hut was once used by Hezbollah as an observation post.

The Army was careful not to describe the incident as a breach of the Blue Line.

But Qassem Hashem, an MP with the Liberation and Development bloc, said the incursion shows Israel “practices persistent breaches, aggressions and violations.”

“We expect an official action against this violation at the United Nations, since these violations are taking place under the sight of UNIFIL, which must assume its responsibilities,” he said.

The incident occurred at the Hassan Gate, which is reached by a potholed lane from Kfar Shuba, 3 kilometers to the north.

The location of the long-abandoned hut is around 140 meters on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, meaning that the Israeli troops did not breach the U.N. boundary when they tore down the structure.

The Blue Line is well marked at this point and there are usually one or two UNIFIL armored personnel carriers parked where the boundary crosses the road leading to the Hassan Gate.

While the Israeli soldiers did not breach the Blue Line, they did cross Lebanon’s internationally recognized frontier by some 60 meters, thus exposing a little-known and deliberate deviation of the Blue Line from Lebanon’s southern border.

The U.N. came up with the idea of the Blue Line in the months before Israel’s troop withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 called for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from all Lebanese territory to the “internationally recognized borders.”

The U.N.’s cartographers realized that attempting to re-demarcate the international border between two countries at war, necessary to confirm the extent of Israel’s troop withdrawal, would pose endless difficulties.

The border was last surveyed in 1950, the original border pillars had long ago vanished and Israel had altered the boundary with several fenced incursion zones during the years of occupation.

To overcome the problem, the U.N. devised the Blue Line, which was intended to correspond as much as possible to Lebanon’s southern border and would be used to measure Israel’s compliance with Resolution 425.

Neither Lebanon nor Israel were particularly helpful in speedily providing accurate data, and both countries had reservations with the final path of the line.

Lebanon protested three places where it said the line deviated to the north and west of the international boundary – south of Rmeish, next to Adaisseh and a 4-kilometer stretch of the border between Metulla and the Hasbani River.

The U.N. said its judgment was impartial and based on the available information, although in the case of the Metulla-Hasbani complaint, the U.N.’s top cartographer at the time subsequently conceded to The Daily Star that they may have misread the data.

Israel’s main objection with the Blue Line was the severing of the village of Ghajar on Lebanon’s southeast border.

The village, populated by Syrian Alawites, was occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. The residents acquired Israeli citizenship in 1981. But during Israel’s years of occupation of south Lebanon the village expanded to the north across the border onto Lebanese soil.

In 2000, the Israelis faced a dilemma in that if the Blue Line followed the border at Ghajar, it would split the village, leaving Israeli citizens inside Lebanon with no fence in-between.

The U.N. cartographers were adamant, however, using a U.N. map from 1974 showing the deployment of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the adjacent Golan Heights to determine the path of the Blue Line through Ghajar.

The U.N. had used the same map to justify its decision that the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms was Syrian territory and that Israel was not obliged to abandon the area to fulfill Resolution 425.

Consequently, some two-thirds of Ghajar ended up on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line and the remaining third in Israeli-occupied Syria.

The U.N. showed more leniency to Israel when it came to defining the path of the Blue Line in the Shebaa Farms.

The most common version of the international border in the Shebaa Farms follows the watershed, running from mountain top to mountain top. Israel mans three positions in the Shebaa Farms that lie on the border – Jabal Summaqa, Roweisat Allam and “Radar” opposite Shebaa.

If the Blue Line had followed the exact path of the border it would have cut though the positions, forcing the Israelis to dismantle and reassemble them a few meters to the south.

That was the case elsewhere along the Blue Line, most notably on Sheikh Abbad hill near Houla where the Israelis manned one of their largest positions in south Lebanon.

The Sheikh Abbad outpost was bulldozed and the current concrete fortress erected a few meters to the east behind the Blue Line.

However, in the Shebaa Farms, the U.N. allowed the Israelis to keep their outposts intact, apparently to mollify Israel for the partitioning of Ghajar.

While the Blue Line follows the path of the international border in the Ghajar plain beside Abbasieh and the lower slopes of the Shebaa Farms hills, it deviates northward by up to 200 meters where the Jabal Summaqa and Roweisat Allam outposts are located. The Blue Line then rejoins the border before looping around the Radar outpost.

While Lebanon’s formal complaints over the three anomalies at Rmeish, Adaisseh and Metulla-Hasbani River have been widely reported, the Shebaa Farms anomaly remains overlooked or unknown. It is also the Blue Line’s only divergence from the international border that cannot be justified as an impartial decision based on available data.

UNIFIL’s official maps of its area of operations in south Lebanon show the Blue Line but not the original international border.

However, the Italian army drew up its own maps of south Lebanon for the use of its UNIFIL battalion.

The Italian maps mark both the path of the Blue Line and the international border, clearly exposing the 15-year-old discrepancy in the Shebaa Farms.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2015, on page 2.

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