Kidnapped in Lebanon? I think not.

Ran HaCohen, July 29, 2006

Joshua Frank did an important job in bringing two competing stories about the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbollah: the main-stream story which says they were abducted on the Israeli side of the border, and the alternative claim that the soldiers were captured by Hizbollah on Lebanese soil. I am afraid, however, that this is one of these rare cases in which the main-stream (and Israeli) version is the credible one. Note that the Hizbollah itself, so it seems,  never claimed the alternative story was true: it’s not Israel’s words versus Hizbollah’s, but the general media versus unclear sources. Let me try to show why.

(1) As for the main-stream story, Frank writes: “Hezbollah attacked an Israeli border patrol station, killing six and taking two soldiers hostage. The incident happened on the Lebanese/Israel border in Israeli territory.”

-Not quite. The precise story is: Hezbollah attacked an Israeli border patrol station, killing three and taking two soldiers hostage. The incident happened on the Lebanese/Israel border in Israeli territory. Following the kidnap, an Israeli tank crossed the border into Lebanon and was destroyed, in which four soldiers were killed, bringing the number of casualties to seven. Some of the confusion seems to have been caused by these two separate events, which are sometimes conflated in the reports.

(2) As for the alternative story, Frank writes: “Israel sent a commando force into southern Lebanon and was subsequently attacked by Hezbollah near the village of Aitaa al-Chaab, well inside Lebanon’s southern territory. It was at this point that an Israeli tank was struck by Hezbollah fighters, which resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the death of six.”
-However, an Israeli tank of the kind used (Merkava) is normally manned by 4 soldiers, not by six or eight.

Now let’s check the sources for the alternative version, one by one:

(3) The AFP report: “According to the Lebanese police force, the two Israeli soldiers were captured in Lebanese territory.”

-But the same report contains yet another significant line: “Hezbollah did not specify the place of capture of the two soldiers”. Remember the actual organ in power in south Lebanon is Hizbollah, not the Lebanese police.

(4) The French news site www.VoltaireNet.org: “In a deliberated way, [Israel] sent a commando in the Lebanese back-country to Aitaa al-Chaab. It was attacked by Hezbollah, taking two prisoners.”

-However, this site says that this report is based not on its regular Middle-East reporter, but “grâce aux nombreux contacts dont il dispose sur place” – i.e., anonymous sources.
(5) The Associated Press reported that “The militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon”.

-This ambiguous or rather contrdictory  formulation can clearly mean that the soldiers were captured across the border on Israeli soil; “southern Lebanon” may be used as a broad geographic term.

(6) The Hindustan Times writes: “The Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah movement announced on Wednesday that its guerrillas have captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon .[…] The Lebanese police said that the two soldiers were captured as they ‘infiltrated’ into the town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border.”
-This could sound pretty good if the Hindustan Times was responsible for this item. But this is not the case. Hindustan Times has taken the item from the Indo-Asian News Service. The Indo-Asian News Service, in turn, has taken it from DPA, the German news agency. However, the DPA report in German, posted immedialy after the kidnap (even before the tank incident) said the two soldiers had been abducted, according to the Hizbollah announcement, „from the border area“ („aus dem Grenzgebiet“).

(7)  The last source quoted is “a report from The National Council of Arab Americans, based in Lebanon”. However, this “report” is no more than a blog message posted by an anonymous “Zeina”, who was seeking shelter somewhere in Lebanon and was clearly informed second-hand.

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     In short, there seems to be no real evidence for the so-called alternative story, especially not in view of the very extensive account and pictures released in Israel for the original version, i.e. that the two soldiers were abducted across the border just inside Israel.

Ran HaCohen

 




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