After much controversy regarding the incident where Israeli jets came close to engaging a German helicopter based on a Navy ship off the coast of Lebanon last month, the French defense minister announced that her country’s forces came dangerously close to opening fire on Israel Air Force jets as they flew over Lebanese airspace.
Speaking before the French Parliament, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said that French troops were “two seconds” away from firing at Israeli aircraft maneuvering over the heads of French soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force.
According to Alliot-Marie, the incident occurred on October 31, but did not reveal the location of the incident. On the same day, Prime Minister Olmert was visiting the north of Israel, and reports indicate that eight IAF jets flew at the time over southern Lebanon, four more over Beirut, and additional ones over the Bakaa Valley and northern Lebanon.
Alliot-Marie added that “two seconds later there would have been a shot against the aircraft which were directly menacing our forces. A catastrophe was avoided thanks to the judiciousness of our troops.”
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told French news service AFP that a caution would be given to the Israeli authorities, saying that "Israeli flights over southern Lebanon are a source of serious concern". "When Israeli aircraft recently 'dived' on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops," Douste-Blazy said.
Since the end of the war in Lebanon over the summer, Israel has been under intense criticism for continuing to fly over Lebanese airspace saying it was a violation of resolution 1701. Israel has responded numerous times to the request to stop flying, saying that the missions were for the purpose of gathering intelligence on weapons smuggling into Lebanon and the rebuilding of Hizballah. Israeli officials have said that as long as resolution 1701 is not fully implemented in the area of weapons smuggling, Israel will continue to fly over Lebanon.
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