The Lebanese army is claiming that Israel has begun using a new tool to collect intelligence above Lebanon's skies – hot air balloons equipped with cameras, transmission capabilities and self-destruction mechanisms. The charges follow an escalation between Israel and Lebanon's army, which reached a new low in the recent border skirmish.
According to reports in Arab media, "Bombardier" hot air balloons were spotted over Baalbek, the villages of Nahla and Younin and the east Lebanon mountain ridge. A military expert told London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat that firing at the balloons would be problematic, because it would reveal the location of weapons caches.
A statement released by the Lebanese army over the weekend said that on Thursday, at 7:40 pm, "espionage balloons" were seen over east Lebanon. "This is a new violation of Lebanese sovereignty," the statement said.
On Friday, Lebanese newspaper al-Liwa reported that Israel indirectly warned the Lebanese army that the IDF could annihilate it within four hours. According to the report, Frederick Hof, a senior advisor to US Mideast envoy East George Mitchell, told Lebanese army commander Jean Kahwajim that should his army initiate additional fire exchanges with Israel, the IDF would operate its contingency plan and respond harshly.
The report further quoted Mitchell's aide as telling the Lebanese commander that Israel had decided to carry out a plan "which would completely destroy the Lebanese army's bases, centers and offices within four hours."
Lieutenant-Colonel (res.) Dov Harari was killed in the border skirmish earlier this month and another officer was seriously injured. Firing began when IDF forces entered a border enclave in order to uproot a tree. Lebanon later blamed Israel for violating UN Resolution 1701, but a UNIFIL report later ruled that the tree was on the Israeli side of the border.
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