The Menace of Israeli Warplanes

As we chase the latest headlines and grow dizzy from the daily crises of the Middle East, sometimes we overlook the persistent problems.  Perhaps the element of continuance makes them frustrating, perhaps just boring.  But to ignore the drip-drop of Israeli belligerence toward Lebanon is to shrug off the impunity by which it persists.

In February 2013, I published the article “Birds of Prey: the Record of Impunity for Israeli Military Aircraft,”  which provides background to this growing problem.  What follows is a statistical update. (original UN reports listed here)

In the 18-month period of January 2012—June 2013,* there were a total of 1450 air violations.  (There are additional land and sea violations, which can be viewed in the same reports here.)  That is 1450 separate flights by Israeli warplanes and reconnaissance drones throughout Lebanese territory, including the skies over the capital Beirut.  They fly in and out, oftentimes over Naqurah, home to UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).  The Israeli warplanes issue their daily threats, yet face at most only a meek and ineffective challenge.

During this 18-month period, monthly violations have ranged from 46 (November 2012) to 120 (February 2013).  That averages to 80.5 air violations per month.  Imagine if there were foreign military routinely in the skies of any other nation on earth.  Yet there is rarely a mention in the international press.  The UN merely stacks up the reports.  And the Lebanese simply endure the effrontery.

On 6 May 2013, UNIFIL “lodged firm protests with the IDF on this matter, asking them to cease the overflights.”  Israel’s response?   Bright and early the day after UNIFIL’s warning:

(0805) An Israeli enemy reconnaissance aircraft violated Lebanese airspace, entering over Alma al-Sha‛b.  It circled over the South, Baalbek and Riyaq before leaving at 2325 hours over Rumaysh.”  Thirty minutes after the first sortie, “(0835) An Israeli enemy reconnaissance aircraft violated Lebanese airspace, entering over Naqurah.  It circled over Juniyah, Beirut, the Shuf and Jubayl, then over Beirut and its suburbs, before leaving at 1405 hours over Naqurah.  (A/67/921–S/2013/409)

Did the Israeli pilot wave with a smirk as he flew over UNIFIL’s base at Naqurah?

And so Israel military aircraft have rumbled on through the skies of Lebanon.  May 2013, recall, saw 114 illegal overflights—prompting the Lebanese Ambassador to the UN to lodge a formal complaint against Israel “intensifying its incursions over Lebanon” (A/67/883–S/2013/332, dated 5 June 2013).  Nonetheless, Israeli air violations totalled 117 in June 2013, and have since continued unabated.  Far from conceding authority to the UN body tasked with maintaining the fragile peace, Israeli military has become more egregious in its manoeuvers.  Now that is impunity.  The question is why such injustice is tolerated.

*The latest month for which there is posted an official record of complaint.  Subsequent months will be filed  here.  Real-time reports are filed daily by the Lebanese National News Agency here.

Brenda Heard is the founder and director of Friends of Lebanon, London. She can be contacted at: mail@friendsoflebanon.org. Read other articles by Brenda.