Israel Beefing Up Military Presence Along Lebanese Border

Special Jerusalem Report

20 February 2003

Late Wednesday evening, in a potentially very significant move, the Israeli army announced that it has begun to beef up forces along the northern border with Lebanon following intelligence warnings that either the Syrian-backed Hizbullah militia or Palestinian groups are preparing to launch a major terror attack in the area. Reports say tanks are being moved to forward positions in the northern Galilee panhandle, just below the Golan Heights, and regular troop deployments are being reinforced.

Security sources say this may actually be part of a build up of forces in anticipation of action against the Hizbullah militia when American and British forces attack Iraq in the coming weeks as terrorist assaults across the border are more likely in the midst of escalating tension in the region.

Update this morning from David Dolan: “The delicate nature of the situation along Israel's northern border with Lebanon was illustrated overnight when the army asked Israeli newspapers and electronic media to cease reporting details of a military buildup in the area. News that Israeli forces were being beefed up was first broadcast at 8:00 PM last evening on Israel's most watched nightly news program, on Channel 2. The commercial channel then repeated the story at the end of its broadcast at 8:30, which included details that tanks and anti-aircraft missiles were being deployed in the upper Galilee area along the Lebanon border, just below the strategic Golan Heights.

In the meantime, Israeli newspapers broke the story on their web sites. However, the main evening newscast one hour later on state-run Israel Television did not even mention the buildup, which seasoned Israelis would understand probably meant that the story was being suppressed for security reasons. It did appear for several more hours on newspaper web sites, but was finally killed around midnight.

Since many Israelis had seen the Channel 2 report, and others the web site updates, the army realized that it had to comment on the reported buildup. It then issued a statement that "no special alert" was in effect in the tense border area, nor were "unusual security measures" being taken. Newspapers today have simply carried that statement with no further comment, and it was not even mentioned on this morning's electronic media.

The Channel 2 and website reports highlight the difficult position that military censors find themselves in today. When the first Gulf War took place only 12 years ago, Israel had only one TV channel, loosely controlled by the government, and no 24 hour a day news web sites. The situation is much more complex today, and certainly much harder for army censors to monitor.