Israel was likely to retaliate for the antitank missile
attack Monday by Hizbullah on one of its military bulldozers
near the Lebanon border that killed one soldier and seriously
The armored D-9 bulldozer was clearing a roadside mine that
had been set by Hizbullah some weeks previously. The
explosives were not cleared earlier because of the steady
rains. The IDF does not know how the guerrillas managed to
penetrate the security fence in order to lay the explosives
and return to Lebanon. Israel said it had uncovered roadside
explosives planted by Hizbullah three times since November.
Such explosives are clearly illegal and criminal.
At that point, the fence runs south of the international
border, completely within Israeli territory. Since the
explosives were near the fence, the bulldozer went onto the
other side of the fence, while remaining within Israeli
territory. It was hit while it was on the north side of the
fence but within Israeli territory.
Hizbullah said the bulldozer was in Lebanese territory and
had been destroyed by the missile.
The IDF submitted a complaint to the United Nations about the
attack. A UNIFIL officer said that he witnessed the missile
being fired from Lebanese territory toward the IDF
Hizbullah terrorists were apparently waiting for the IDF to
clear the explosives and when the bulldozer crossed the fence
line to deal with the remaining bombs, an anti-tank missile
scored a direct hit on the vehicle, which burst into flames.
The two operators aboard were seriously hurt and one
subsequently died of his wounds despite the efforts of
paramedics at the scene. The other soldier was evacuated by
IAF helicopter to Haifa's Rambam Hospital.
The attack stirred tensions in the north and raised the
likelihood of an Israeli military response. OC Northern
Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz said that the IDF was weighing
its response and intimated that those on the other side of
the border had cause for concern. Israeli security sources
said it was not a question of whether Israel would respond to
this latest atrocity and violation of the international
border, but how and in what strength.
The attack also increased friction between Israel and Syria,
which maintains a large military presence in Lebanon and
Syria's president called in December for reopening peace
talks with Israel, but Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon,
was cool to the idea.
"If President Assad is intent on making peace, the least he
could do is restrain Hizbullah from attacking Israel," said
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon. "The first thing
Syria has to do is act against terror."
Before the shooting, Mr. Sharon told a parliamentary
committee that it was clear to him that a peace deal with
Syria would require Israel to withdraw from all of the Golan
One Israeli legislator said that Syria is in a weak position,
and suggested that Israel might be able to win concessions if
talks were held soon.
"Have no illusions," Mr. Gissin quoted Mr. Sharon as saying
in the discussion. "The price for full peace with Syria is
Israel relinquishing all of the Golan Heights."
Mr. Gissin added, "The prime minister said this as a
statement of fact, not as his position in any
Mr. Sharon's political supporters and opponents in Israel
interpreted his comments as reluctance to pursue new
Last week, Israel's president Moshe Katsav invited Mr. Assad
to visit Jerusalem, but Syria rejected the offer as a public
relations stunt. President Katzav renewed the invitation and
the Syrians have not responded. No Syrian leader has ever
Some Israeli officials believe that Syria is making peace
overtures now because it is facing increased pressure from
the United States in its war against terror. The US has
accused Syria of supporting Iraq by sending weaponry during
the fighting, by allowing Iraqis to flee into Syria and even
now by allowing fighters to infiltrate Iraq along the its
common border with Iraq.
In another development, Mr. Gissin said, Israel was reviewing
possible adjustments to the separation barrier it is building
in the West Bank, which has drawn much criticism abroad.
"We came to the conclusion that we have obtained the optimum
level of security in some areas, but there is something to be
desired in the living conditions for Palestinians," Mr.
At a strategy meeting to discuss the legal challenges to the
fence within Israel and at the International Court at The
Hague Prime minister Sharon stressed that Israel may make
changes in the route of the fence as a result of its own
internal reviews, but not as a response to outside pressures.
Sharon said: "We are not discussing a change in the route of
the fence, and there will be no change as a result of
Palestinian or UN demands, including those from the Court. A
re-discussion of the fence's route will take place only as a
result of internal Israeli deliberations. The operative
experience that has accumulated over the last few months in
which the fence was being constructed was both good and bad.
It was excellent at preventing terror but was not
satisfactory in all matters relating to the damage to
Palestinians' quality of life. . . . it is possible that
additional thought is needed to allow for the possibility of
changing the route, in order to reduce the number of mishaps
in operating the fence without harming security."
Israel has made several minor alterations to the barrier.
Israel says the barrier is solely a security measure and has
no political meaning.