DEBKAfile Exclusive: Hizballah puts a tight rein on UN peacekeepers' movements and policing operations in S. Lebanon - with threats to their safety
These restrictions box the international force, expanded by the Security Council last August to keep the whole of S. Lebanon free of armed men except for the Lebanese army, into a narrow border strip. Hizballah has again manned its pre-war border positions albeit by unarmed operatives and their yellow flags are flying from their roofs. But most dangerously, Hizballah has moved most of its weapons stockpiles into the blocked villages in breach of the ceasefire rules and is anxious to keep them out of sight of UN monitors.
Having beaten UNIFIL into a corner, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasralllah celebrated the resignation of Israeli chief of staff Lt. General Dan Halutz as proof of his strategic victory in the Lebanon conflict of summer 2006. In a speech Friday, Jan 19, he crowed that Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz would be next to go. The speech was pre-taped, as are all Nasrallah's public appearances since last year, in view of his status as an internationally wanted terrorist.
DEBKAfile's military sources report that the episode Thursday, Jan 18, when Lebanese "villagers" from Zaoutar north of the Litani drove away Spanish UNIFIL members, was in fact the first time Hizballah had publicly turned the screw on the international peacekeepers. The Lebanese group has acted in advance of the arrival of the new Italian UNIFIL commander in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano, who takes over from Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini. He is expected to be a lot tougher about keeping Hizballah in line with the ceasefire conditions than Pellegrini who, the Shiite group found to be a soft touch.
DEBKAfile's political sources note that all of Hizballah's breaches and its advance ever closer to the border have evoked no Israeli response, whether diplomatic or military. This is causing deep concern in Israel's northern border towns and villages.