Commanders of French forces in Lebanon had threatened in mid-October to shoot at IDF overflights of Lebanon. It nearly happened on October 31. “French troops ‘seconds’ away from firing on Israeli warplanes,” from Gulf News (the “Occupied Jerusalem” dateline is theirs):
Paris/Occupied Jerusalem: French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Israeli flights over Lebanon nearly caused a “catastrophe” last month, when French peacekeeping troops were seconds away from firing on Israeli warplanes.
The incident took place on October 31, when a squadron of Israeli F-15 fighter planes nose-dived over French peacekeepers’ positions in southern Lebanon, Alliot-Marie told lawmakers at France’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday night.
The planes were “clearly in attack position,” she said, in comments broadcast on RTL radio yesterday. French troops responded by readying an anti-aircraft missile, and were seconds away from firing on the warplanes, she said.
“Our troops barely avoided a catastrophe,” Alliot-Marie said. “Under these circumstances, our troops find themselves in a position where they have to fire in legitimate self defence.” It was not immediately clear why the French troops decided not to fire.
The mock raids by warplanes last week over Beirut and other parts of Lebanon were Israel’s strongest show of force since the end of its 33-day war with Hezbollah.
Captain Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for France’s general staff, said the planes made three flyovers in the area.
“Thanks to the sangfroid of French soldiers, we avoided a catastrophe,” he said.
French officials have regularly complained that Israel’s overflights of Lebanon are counter to UN Security Council resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 33 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on August 14.
The UN peacekeeping chief in Lebanon, Major General Alain Pelligrini of France, said last month that the flyovers violated the cease-fire resolution and warned that force might be used to stop the incursions.
The Israeli military said yesterday that it was unaware of any incident with French UN troops in Lebanon.
“We are not aware of this incident,” a military spokesman told reporters.
Yesterday, the French government summoned Israel’s ambassador to Paris to complain about the incident, according to French defence ministry officials.
A ministry official had earlier told reporters that the incident occurred on October 31 but declined to give the exact location.
A senior French officer with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, insisted that the “Israeli army provocation” took place.
“The Israeli aircraft carried out a simulated attack,” the official told the media on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military spokesman said, however, that the “Israeli air force never carries out offensive overflights over south Lebanon”.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said a caution would be given to the Israeli authorities, saying that “Israeli flights over southern Lebanon are a source of
Israel says its continued overflights do not constitute a breach of the truce because Hezbollah has not disarmed and its two soldiers remain missing.