I’m sure that the family of Lt. Col. (res.) Dov Harari didn’t expect that he would not return from his annual stint of reserve duty.
Harari, 45 years old and from Netanya, was a battalion commander in the IDF Engineering Corps. Early this afternoon, he was supervising soldiers who were clearing brush next to the security fence near the Israel-Lebanon border along with Capt. Ezra Lakia, 30, from Kfar Harif. This is a routine activity, carried out entirely on the Israeli side of the border, and coordinated with UNIFIL peacekeepers.
Suddenly a Lebanese Army armored vehicle appeared on a nearby rise. Two snipers got out and opened fire directly at the officers. Lt. Col. Harari was hit in the head and killed, and Capt. Lakia was critically wounded in the chest (he was airlifted to Rambam Hospital in Haifa where he underwent surgery, in part to remove fragments from his heart; he has been reported in stable condition).
The Lebanese soldiers did not call out to the Israelis or fire warning shots. They shot to kill, in what can only be called an act of cold-blooded murder.
Israeli soldiers returned fire. Several Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed (we’ll get to the journalist later).
Here is an IDF map, showing the location of the incident. Note that there is an area (an ‘enclave’) between the security fence and the international border.
The rise just north of the border is a perfect spot to shoot down at anyone on the Israeli side. This, plus the way the officers were singled out, makes it clear that this was no accidental clash. IDF officials called the attack a “deliberate ambush”:
The IDF has noticed an increase lately in anti-Israel rhetoric among senior LAF commanders. The LAF company commander responsible for the area where the attack took place recently took up his post and, the IDF believes, might have interpreted the recent rise in rhetoric to mean that he could take matters into his own hands.
Israel is concerned with the radicalization that the LAF has undergone over the past year, including the assistance it provides Hizbullah in hiding its arms caches and operations throughout southern Lebanon…
OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said the Lebanese soldiers had planned to attack the troops and used the crossing of the fence as an excuse. “This was a deliberate ambush,” Eizenkot said. “This was a provocation by the LAF, and we view the shooting severely.”
The Lebanese Army’s officer corps is 30% Shiite, as are most of the rank and file. Many of them are very sympathetic to Hizballah. So the possibility that this was a Hizballah provocation is real. Lebanese President Michael Suleiman, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad all denounced Israel, claiming that Israeli soldiers had crossed the border into Lebanon. But even UNIFIL representatives said that the attack was unprovoked.
What about the journalist who was killed? According to the Lebanese Daily Star, he was Assaf Abu Rahhal, a Lebanese who worked for the Hizballah-aligned daily al Akhbar. The Star also reports that Ali Shaib, a correspondent for the Hizballah TV channel al-Manar was wounded in the fighting. One wonders why they were with this particular group of LAF soldiers. Were they expecting something to happen?
What we don’t know is how high this goes. Are we dealing with a jihadi LAF officer who saw an opportunity to kill a few Jews, or was there a high-level plan to create an incident, and if so, to what purpose? Many commentators have said that Hizballah doesn’t want a war today, but perhaps they’re wrong? Others have said that the incident is intended to divert attention from the forthcoming release of the report of the UN Special Tribunal on Lebanon which is expected to name a senior Hizballah member as responsible for the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri.
We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, we express our condolences to the family of Lt. Col. Harari and wish for the speedy recovery of Capt. Lakia.
Update [4 Aug 0839 PDT]: See this article for complete details on the incident. Clearly it was much more serious than early IDF reports (on which I based my post) had indicated, especially in connection to the role of Hizballah.