The government of Israel claimed that it sent its troops to war against
Hezbollah in Lebanon seven weeks ago after the militant organization
had crossed the border onto Israeli territory and captured two soldiers
of the Israeli army.  Retired Lebanese Lieutenant General Amin Hteit,
who supervised the demarcation of the Blue Line and Israel's 2000
withdrawal from southern Lebanon, believes Hezbollah captured the two
Israeli soldiers on July 12 on the Lebanese side of the border.

If this is true, then under the international law governing the activities of belligerent states, it would not have been legal for Israel to launch its month-long invasion into Lebanon.  If this version of events is true, then who really provoked whom?

These are some of the questions that have been stirred up – although few appear to be paying attention – by the evidence, such as it is, put forth by a prominent, retired Lebanese military officer who claims that "[t]he capture operation actually took place in the Alm Al-Shaab area of south Lebanon…." Retired Lebanese Lieutenant General Amin Hteit, who oversaw the demarcation of the United Nations-published Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon in 2000, told Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly: "Here it is, on the map, the precise point where there continued to be an Israeli army post until just over a month ago" (until it was bombed out of existence during the recent war, that is). In making his assertion, Hteit pointed on a map to a location on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line.

The problem is, of course, that even if Hteit's claim is true, now, after Israel's intense bombing of southern Lebanon during the war, there is no physical evidence left standing to support his argument.

Al-Ahram Weekly explains that, back around July 12, early news reports around the world had "indicated that the capture [of the two Israeli soldiers had taken] place on territory that is technically Lebanese. But within hours the standard story…became that Hezbollah fighters had in fact crossed into Israeli territory, over the Blue Line. Much speculation followed to ascertain how Hezbollah militants [had gotten] into Israel, given that none of the barbed-wire fencing set up across the Blue Line [had been] cut. Talk of underground tunnels arose. Though Hezbollah is reported to have a complex network of tunnels inside Lebanon and into Syria, whether or not they have any leading into Israel is anybody's guess."

The Blue Line is generally accepted as the functional border between Israel and Lebanon. The Egyptian paper reports that Hteit has noted that there is an Israeli-built road "that runs along and occasionally zigzags across the Blue Line." The retired Lebanese military officer has pointed out that even after Israeli forces retreated from the area years ago, "Israel (and Israel only) continued to use the road even after it withdrew." Hteit said it became a de facto Blue Line for Israel, whose continued use of the thoroughfare, "even when it crossed into Lebanon – and thus…in violation of the agreement governing the Blue Line – has been central to the obfuscation surrounding the question of where the two Israeli soldiers were really captured…."

However, Al-Ahram Weekly points out, any possibility of verifying Hteit's assertions has been ruled out by the fact that, in the recent war, "the location and its surroundings" were "bombed into oblivion." Hteit himself noted: "Almost immediately after the capture [of the two Israeli soldiers on July 12], and early on in the ensuing onslaught, [Israel] destroyed not only the army post but also the entire stretch of the road as it crossed into Lebanese territory….In this way, Israel immediately and purposely eliminated the possibility of any real investigation."

Timur Goksel, a longtime member of the United Nations peacekeeping forces that have served in southern Lebanon, said: "The area is dead. No one goes there. It is virtually impossible to find anyone who could have seen anything."

Goksel doubts that Hezbollah's seizure of the two Israeli soldiers could have taken place on the Lebanese side of the border "or even that there could have been an army post on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line all these years, regardless of the fact that Israel had built the road mentioned by Hteit." Goskel told Al-Ahram Weekly: "The highly sophisticated security fence that lies in most cases on the Blue Line was built by Israel for Israel's security first and foremost….For their own safety, the Israelis would not have jumped their own fence."

The Egyptian newspaper admits that it "may appear bizarre" to question the now-accepted story of how the recent Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon got started, especially now that a ceasefire has gone into effect and appears to be holding. However, it adds: "Hteit's statements challenge not only the…assumption that Hezbollah struck out first. They also provide circumstantial evidence backing claims that Israel's mass aggression on Lebanon was in the pipeline before 12 July. As Hteit says, 'It would appear strange to believe both the well-proven fact that Israel pre-planned its war on Lebanon and the story that Hezbollah struck first. The two threads simply do not match.'"