JERUSALEM – Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that Israeli air force flights over Lebanon would continue because arms smuggling to Lebanese guerrillas has not stopped.
Peretz made this statement to Israel's Cabinet after the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon termed the overflights a clear violation of the U.N. resolution ending Israel's monthlong summer war with Hezbollah fighters.
Peretz accused the Lebanese government of failing to honor its obligation under the resolution to keep weapons from reaching Hezbollah from its Syrian and Iranian backers.
"The accumulating intelligence in our hands points to a rising effort to transfer arms," so "the legitimacy for overflights increases," he said.
The U.N. cease-fire resolution, which went into effect on Aug. 14, calls for both sides to respect the U.N. boundary drawn in 2000 after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.
Israel says it has no choice but to conduct flights across that line because of ongoing arms supplies to Hezbollah and the group's continued armed presence in southern Lebanon, which, under the resolution, is to become a weapons-free zone.
A Lebanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, said Lebanon would continue to press for an end to the Israeli overflights.
Peretz's statements, he said, "confirmed that Israel has been violating and would continue to violate Lebanese airspace."
Up to 15,000 Lebanese army troops and an equal number of U.N. troops have been assigned to keep the peace in southern Lebanon. Last week, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, leader of the U.N. peacekeeping force, criticized Israel for sending its jets over the area.
Peretz, in response, said on Sunday that the U.N. force was "designed to operate against Hezbollah, not Israel.
"As long as the resolution isn't implemented, there is no other choice" but to keep flying over Lebanon, he said.