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Israel Seeks to Reassure Lebanon That It Respects Its Sovereignty

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Israel sought to reassure Lebanon this week, in the first face-to-face talks in more than two years, that it fully respects Lebanon’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Two Lt. Colonels of the Israel army and a Foreign Ministry diplomat conveyed that message when they met Lebanese army officers Monday under UN auspices at Ras Nakura; he ad quarters of the United Nations Interim Fort in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on the Israel-Lebanese border.

Informed sources said the atmosphere at the meeting was “very good, very relaxed.” After a half hour of formal discussions the two teams lunched together, joined by the chairman of the session, the chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO). The UN apparently hopes to arrange further such meetings in the future.

In the meantime, both the UN and the Israeli side are treating Monday’s meeting in a low key despite the months of meticulous efforts that went into preparing it Presumably this is to avoid incurring hostility from Syria or other Arab extremist quarters.

The Lebanese, moreover, are reporting the meeting as a reactivation of the long-defunct Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission (ILMAC) rather than as a direct, semi-political encounter between the two sides. At the very outset of the meeting, in fact, the Lebanese officers took the position that this was a session of the ILMAC.

The Israelis, for their part, maintain their position that ILMAC is not merely defunct but actually deceased, having died with the outbreak of the 1967 war along with all the other Mixed Armistice Commissions (MACS). The MACS between Israel and each of its neighbors, were set up under the 1949 armistice agreements.

Significantly, the UNIFIL communique issued Monday night which reported the meeting did not refer to ILMAC even though an earlier Security Council resolution had called on the UN Secretary-General “to reactivate ILMAC.” The UNIFIL communique merely said that “representatives of the Israel army and the Lebanese army met — (and) exchanged views about the present situation.”

Apparently, this text was agreed upon in advance. Israel had categorically refused to attend the meeting if it was to be billed as a session’s of the ILMAC. Israeli sources say that Lebanon’s interest in a formal revival of ILMAC stems from Beirut’s belief that a return to the UN-ILMAC-pre-1967 regime would somehow help it to extend its authority up to the border. In addition, the UN’s status would be enhanced, which Lebanon sees on a favorable development.

In the course of the meeting on Monday and the “exchange of views about the present situation,” the Israeli side argued that it was not Israel, nor Maj. Sood Hoddod in south Lebanon, who were responsible for the difficult situation in the border area. The root cause was the internal turmoil and weakness in Beirut itself, and the consequent license afforded the various Palestine Liberation Organization groups to ride roughshod over Lebanese sovereignty.

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