Fears growing of ‘all out war’ on Lebanon border between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah | World News

Irish soldiers monitoring the “Blue Line” separating Israel and Lebanon – one of the most dangerous areas in the world – have been deployed as part of multi-national commitment to preventing conflict and to detect and deter hostile fire. But fears are growing of an “all out war”.

By John Sparks, International correspondent @sparkomat

The war in Lebanon, which began one day after the conflict in Gaza, looks and sounds like a militarised version of hide and seek.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, along with a number of other militant groups, use the olive groves and fruit trees for cover as they launch weapons over Lebanon‘s southern frontier.

Israel-Gaza latest updates

The Israelis spy from their towering observation posts which dominate the “Blue Line” separating the two countries. The motorised whine of Israel’s drones provides a constant reminder of their presence.

Every attack is met with a reciprocal response. Hezbollah’s rockets follow Israeli artillery fire. Israeli air strikes follow the militants’ anti-tank missiles.

However, the two sides are not seeking to annihilate each other – or advance into each other’s territory – at least for the time being. Instead, each strike is like a statement of intent, an example of the deadly possibilities.

At the rim of this simmering volcano stands another party that has been attempting to keep the peace on the Lebanese frontier since 1978.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cathal Keohane

It is called the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – a multi-national force charged with monitoring and deterring hostile acts.

A detachment of 550 Irish soldiers play a key role in UNIFIL’s mission and Sky News met their commander at “Camp Shamrock”, some 20 minutes or so from the Blue Line.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cathal Keohane told us that recent fighting at the border has been deeply worrying.

The valleys of Lebanon where Hezbollah militants are hiding

An Israeli observation tower

“It is fair to say that this is the most fraught period of time in the last 20 years for us.

“While initially in the first few weeks (after 8 October) it was very localised to the Blue Line, more lately, it has escalated, (the attacks are) moving deeper into Lebanon.

“There are a wider range of weapons with great lethality being used by both sides.”

“This is what you are seeing?” I asked.

“This is our observation, and our concern is… that at the top of [the] ladder is all out war and our concern is that we are progressing towards that.”

Lebanon on the verge of war

Members of the Irish unit told Sky News how they have been watching the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel unfold

The Irish operate two isolated outposts on the line separating Lebanon and Israel, and Sky News was taken to visit one of these posts in the back of an armoured personnel carrier – the first journalists to travel to the border with UNIFIL since the conflict began.

These posts now find themselves situated at the heart of the battle zone with hostile fire from both sides landing perilously close.

One soldier showed us pictures of a position enveloped by smoke generated by white phosphorous bombs that had been dropped nearby.

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The battalion commander did not want to comment on the use of white phosphorous in this conflict but local residents, as well as the Lebanese Minister of Health, Firass Abiad, told Sky News that the Israelis have destroyed thousands of acres of olive trees – and injured dozens of people – with this incendiary weapon.

The use of white phosphorous is governed by the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which prohibits the use of airdropped incendiaries within “concentrations of civilians.” Lebanon has acceded to the protocol – Israel has not.

I asked the soldier in charge of one of Ireland’s Blue Line outposts, Lieutenant Dylan Cadogan, whether it was frustrating monitoring a war without having the authority to subdue it.

“It can be frustrating but our mission here is peacekeeping, we can’t enforce peace upon anyone, it has to be wanted on both sides.”

Lieutenant Dylan Cadogan, the soldier in charge of one of Ireland’s Blue Line outposts

Hezbollah increasing operations

In many ways, UNIFIL’s limited mission in southern Lebanon represents the problems and limitations of the organisation they represent.

The UN has repeatedly failed to reach a united front on the conflict in Gaza with the Security Council reflecting deep divisions on a humanitarian ceasefire and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

I asked Battalion Commander Keohane whether he could simply tell the militants and the Israelis to stop – but he said he did not have the mandate.

“A peacekeeping force goes in when both parties are seeking peace and you are there to monitor, report and provide an impartial witness to what is going on,” he said.

A house hit by shells from an Israeli tank – leaving the occupants needing care from the Irish

“There are peace enforcement missions but that is a different thing entirely, they are structured differently, they are equipped differently and that is not what UNIFIL is…”

An “enforcement mission” would require a level of agreement at the Security Council that is currently unimaginable.

In the meantime, this band of Irish soldiers positioned on the Blue Line will monitor and report and assist in any way they can.

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