Enemies of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority abound.
In the Middle East the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah axis also embraces extreme Islamist organisations world-wide to form what is coming to be known as "global jihad" – a combination of groups and bodies intent on waging war against non-Muslims in general, but directing their terrorist activities especially against Christians, Jews and western-style democracies.
These organisations, and the individuals who are sympathetic to their aims, have a long list of reasons for confronting Israel at any time – and have no hesitation in inventing more as opportunity presents itself. At the moment Israelis and Palestinians seem to be edging towards direct peace negotiations. This would certainly not suit the agenda of global jihad, and the traditional way of undermining such moves is to mount some sort of terror attack calculated to result in retaliation. The rocket attack on Israel's southern city of Eilat last week was just such a move – a move that went disastrously wrong when it resulted in death and damage in the adjacent Jordanian city of Aqaba.
At the moment a new confrontation with Israel might divert attention from the fourth set of United Nations sanctions about to be imposed on Iran; or it could serve to turn the world's gaze away from International Court of Justice indictments that seem about to be issued against senior Hezbollah figures over the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Iran's President Ahmadinejad has even chosen this moment to repeat his denial of the Holocaust and his claim that the events of 9/11 were a conspiracy engineered by the United States. Yesterday – Saturday 7 August – according to a report by the official Iranian news agency IRNA, he again asserted, as he has in the past, that the attack on the Twin Towers was a “big fabrication” used to justify the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking at a Tehran conference, Ahmadinejad said there was no evidence that the death toll at New York's World Trade Center, destroyed in the attacks, was as high as reported and said "Zionists" had been tipped off in advance. No "Zionists" were killed in the World Trade Center, according to Ahmadinejad, because "one day earlier they were told not go to their workplace".
"They announced that 3,000 people were killed in this incident," he told a gathering of the Iranian news media, "but there were no reports that reveal their names. Maybe you saw that, but I did not."
In point of fact there is available online a published list of all those killed on 11 September 2001. According to official US figures, 2,995 people from more than 90 countries were killed in the attacks, including 19 hijackers and all passengers and crew aboard four commandeered airliners.
In this febrile atmosphere, the incident on the Lebanese-Israel border last week assumes some sort of context.
What are the facts?
At 9 am last Tuesday (3 August) following standard procedure, the officer commanding a unit of the Israel Defense Forces on the Lebanese border, not far from the Israeli kibbutz of Misgav Am, informed the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that the army planned to prune several trees within Israeli territory in order to remove branches that were interfering with electronic detection devices.
Where were the trees?
Next day (Wednesday) a UNIFIL spokesman said that the organization had established that "the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side."
And what is this "Blue Line"?
The blue line is a UN-drawn recognised international border between Lebanon and Israel, established in 2000 following the cessation of hostilities. To be crystal clear, stretching behind the blue line towards Israel there is an enclave, the edge of which is marked by a security fence. Both enclave and fence are in Israel proper. Since the Second Lebanon War four years ago, Israel has frequently operated inside the enclave. In some places the "blue line" is very close to the fence, while in others the enclave is as much as 800 metres wide.
To return to Tuesday morning. The pruning work on the trees was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but Israel accepted UNIFIL’s request to delay the action for two hours. In the meantime, in accordance with standard operating procedure, UNIFIL informed the Lebanese army of what was planned.
What happened in those two hours?
That is a matter of some speculation. There is some evidence that a Lebanese army officer with Hezbollah sympathies decided to exploit the situation. A sniper was briefed and a unit put on alert. The Lebanese media were tipped off, and a TV crew arrived near the scene to film the attack. A Lebanese marksman fired two or three shots, one of them at the head of a senior IDF officer, who was killed, and the other in the chest of a junior officer, who currently remains in a serious but stable condition. Lebanon says that at least three of its soldiers and a journalist were killed in the resulting exchange of fire.
What else has emerged about this incident?
Well, a Lebanese military spokesman told the Lebanese newspaper A-Nahar on Wednesday that the Lebanese Army was first to open fire – adding, however, that it was their right "to defend Lebanon's sovereignty." Subsequently the UN peacekeeping force has confirmed that the tree whose branches were being cut back was indeed in Israeli territory. Finally a chief UNIFIL official confirmed on Wednesday that Israeli soldiers did not cross the border with Lebanon before the clash.
Immediately following the incident urgent messages flew from western capitals to Jerusalem and Beirut urging de-escalation and restraint, while the UN Security Council held a closed-door session which resulted in nothing more incisive than a short statement reiterating the call on both sides to show restraint.
Restraint is indeed the only response likely to spike the guns of those who are intent on stirring up the maximum trouble in the region. For the moment Israel has contented itself with official letters to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Vitaly Churkin, President of the United Nations Security Council, explaining that the attacks by the Lebanon army threaten stability, peace, and security in the region, and that "in response to this grave incident Israel exercised its right of self-defense, responding with the appropriate measures on LAF positions in the area."
What moral can be drawn from this incident? That the war waged by the enemies of peace is opportunistic and relentless, and that only steadfastness of purpose will overcome them.
On Wednesday morning, Israel Defense forces returned to the site and uprooted the trees without interference.