Conflicting versions released by Germany and Israel of an incident in which two Israeli F-16 warplanes flying low said to have shot two missiles at a German naval vessel off Lebanon
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources have investigated the incident, which was first disclosed by the German daily Der Tagesspiegel earlier Wednesday, Oct. 25 . They confirm that it did occur and involved six Israel F-16 warplanes and the German navy command ship, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern F 218 frigate, which leads the UN naval force opposite Lebanon.
Tuesday evening, Oct. 24, Israeli warplanes were flying low over Damour 20 km south of Beirut on their way to gather intelligence of arms smuggling to Hizballah through the Lebanese coast. The European fleet deployed to monitor the coast for arms smuggling cannot get close enough because the ships are not allowed by the Lebanese government to access coastal waters. On their way from west to east, the Israeli F-16s passed low over the German command vessel, releasing infra-red decoys to ward off any rocket attack. This triggered an alert on the German frigate and its crew jumped to battle positions.
At this point, the Israeli and German versions diverge.
The frigate’s officers flashed Berlin a signal that Israeli air force planes had fired two missiles near the ship. Israel denies this. The Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz, who talked by telephone to the German defense minister Franz Josef Jung Wednesday night, insisted the ship’s officers were wrong. The conversation was described as acrimonious. DEBKAfile’s sources in the German capital add that Israel agreed to send over films taken by its warplanes in the course of the episode to convince the Germans that no missiles were fired and expected Berlin to release a notice of clarification on this point.
DEBKAfile’s military experts say that a clash between Israeli air force and UN naval units was bound to happen. The original fault rested with the Israeli government’s acceptance of the clause in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which denies UNIFIL authority to intercept arms smuggling into Lebanon or armed entry to the south without formal Lebanese government permission.
Such permission is routinely vetoed by Hizballah ministers.
Israeli’s military and intelligence chiefs warned the government against accepting this clause. It has indeed resulted in gunrunning thriving between Syria and Lebanon by land and by sea. In the absence of UNIFIL counter-action, Israel informed Washington, the UN in New York, Unifil commanders and the European governments - which deployed forces in Lebanon - that its air force would be obliged to carry out low passes over the smuggling routes for as long as the UN failed to police them. This was not accepted. The French president and defense minister last week threatened to fire at Israeli planes flying over Lebanon. No one expected the first incident between Israeli warplanes and the UN force to involve a German warship.