07/09/2012 00:51
Israel is deliberating responses to the possibility that Lebanon will divert water from the Hatzbani River.

The IDF is deliberating responses ahead of the possibility that Lebanon will divert water from the Hatzbani River, a move that Israel has in the past viewed as a casus belli – justification for war.

Israel’s concern stems from the construction of a large tourism center on the Lebanese side of the river, not far from the Israeli town of Metulla.

A senior IDF officer in the Northern Command said that construction of the center needed to be closely tracked due to the possibility it would be used to divert water from the Hatzbani, which supplies 25 percent of the Jordan River’s waters.

Israel is concerned about the site’s proximity to the border, particularly in light of a number of near-clashes between IDF troops and soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces.

“It has our attention and we are keeping a close eye on what is happening there,” the officer said. “Our concerns range from the diversion of water to the possibility that the tourism center will be used as cover to launch attacks against Israel.”

In one such case, a small force from the Paratroop Brigade was patrolling the border near the river two weeks ago when they spotted Lebanese troops standing 20 meters away and aiming their weapons – including a rocket-propelled grenade – at them. One of the Israeli soldiers, who speaks Arabic, heard the Lebanese commander dividing up targets for his men. The Israeli soldiers called in a backup force that quickly arrived at the scene, leading the Lebanese to withdraw.

In the meantime, Israel has shared its concern with UNIFIL and plans to raise the issue at one of the upcoming tripartite meetings, which the multinational peacekeeping force convenes at its Naqoura Base for IDF and Lebanese army representatives.

“This could become a strategic problem,” another officer said.

In 2001, Israel threatened Lebanon with military action if it continued to allow villagers to divert water from the Hatzbani River. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon warned Lebanon that diversion of the river’s waters would be viewed as a “pretext for war.”

Israel’s threats came after Lebanon announced a plan to install a new pipeline to the river and divert approximately 5,000 cubic meters of drinking water to five villages nearby.

In 1964, the protracted “battle over water” broke out between Israeli and Syrian forces over Syrian efforts to divert the waters of the Hatzbani and Banyas rivers away from Israel. That led to years of IDF action until the Syrians and Lebanese gave up the idea.