BREAKING: Explosion in south Lebanon hits UNIFIL

BEIRUT — An explosion has killed or injured at least four Spanish members of UNIFIL and wounded several others, although reports trickling in are contradictory and confusing. UNIFIL spokespeople are currently not answering phones — or the lines are busy. (The linked article says four Spanish soldiers were killed and four others wounded, but other stories give differing accounts.)
UPDATE: LBC and AP now report five Spanish troops killed, three wounded. Two bodies were charred beyond immediate recognition.
The explosion could have been an IED or car-bomb, as some reports indicate, or it could have been an unexploded mine, which litter the south of Lebanon. Obviously, if it’s a mine that’s a completely different story than if they were attacked. Indeed, Reuters says it was a landmine that killed four and wounded six.
UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting an IED detonated by remote control. And I spoke with a source familiar with the unexploded ordnance in the Khiam area and the United Nations’ mine clearing operations. The source said if it was a mine, it would have had to be an anti-tank mine, which aren’t as common in Lebanon as anti-personnel mines and that the Khiam area has been previously cleared of unexploded mines leftover from the various wars that have hit south Lebanon over the years.
Initial thoughts: The Spanish were probably in a “BMR-600”:http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/row/bmr-600.htm armored personnel carrier, “as shown here”:http://www.armyrecognition.com/europe/Espagne/vehicules_a_roues/BMR_600/BMR-600_101106_Spain_news_001.jpg. Perhaps some readers might be able to provide some insight on landmine vulnerability of the BMR-600?
Also, groups claiming to be or affiliated with al Qaeda have long made threats against UNIFIL, but none have been carried out so far (assuming the explosion is a landmine and not a planted IED or something.) UNIFIL is hampered by its lack of good intelligence on the ground and a clear authority to pursue counter-terrorism activities. As such, Brookings notes, UNIFIL is forced to rely on the Lebanese security regime, which is relatively weak and hamstrung by the political situation. The current contretemps up north with Fatah al-Islam, which has pledged to expand its campaign outside the camp of Nahr el-Bared, further complicate matters. Brookings believes the threat of a “catastrophic” attack against UNIFIL is real, but not imminent, but today’s blast, assuming it was an attack and not a tragic accident, could be a probing movement to gauge UNFIL’s response and an attempt to affect its military posture and morale. Also, don’t forget the homefronts for the contributor countries: Spain and France might go wobbly with their troop contribution should minor attacks picking off peacekeepers a few at a time become more common.
But why Spain? Spain, with 1,100 troops has the third largest contribution, behind France and Italy, and has been one of the more aggressive of the UNIFIL contingents, taking an active role in weapons confiscation and closely monitoring Hezbollah in the region. This has led to tensions with some Shi’ite villages, that are largely sympathetic to Hezbollah. Earlier this year, angry residents of a village just north of UNIFIL’s deployment mobbed a jeep full of Spanish soldiers because the villagers thought they were spying against Hezbollah. In December, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Hezbollah planted several bombs against one of the Spanish patrols, “which had discovered an abandoned Hizbullah position with stockpiled mortar shells and rockets.”

The area was formerly used by Hizbullah to launch attacks into the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied mountainside claimed by Lebanon. The trip-wire detonated bombs, all constructed from Israeli-made components, were planted by “experts with a lot of technical experience,” an internal UNIFIL report on the incident said.
“This situation suggests a change in the threat that UNIFIL may have to face,” the report said.

After the bombs were discovered, Hezbollah told UNIFIL it was a local commander who was acting on his own and that he would be reprimanded and the incident would not be repeated.
In February, however, the Israeli army dismantled five linked bombs on a border road, claiming they were planted by Hezbollah the weekend before. Hezbollah denied it, saying the bombs were from before the July war last year and UNIFIL said there was no way to tell when the bombs were planted.
But Hezbollah is not the only — or even most likely — party behind the bombing. In fact, my hunch is they are the _least_ likely to have done this. More likely are jihadis who are operating in solidarity with Fatah al-Islam up north (there were persistent stories circulating that UNIFIL’s naval contingent was taking part in the bombardment of Nahr el-Bared), genuine al Qaeda elements or wannabes who want to impress al Qaeda leadership in order to gain admission. There has been so far no claim of responsibility, and the list of possible bombers is a long one.
More as information becomes available.

Syria closes land crossings into Lebanon

BEIRUT — Syria has announced that it is closing the two remaining land crossings into Lebanon as of midnight tonight, including the main Masnaa border crossing. According to LBC, Lebanese customs officials asked their Syrian counterparts at the border why, only to be told “it’s a political decision.” The crossing presumably will be closed indefinitely.

Masnaa is the busiest land crossing, sitting as it does on the road from Beirut to Damascus. It is one of Lebanon’s main trade routes shipping its agricultural products to the rest of the Middle East and tonight’s closures, following Syria’s closure earlier this month of the northern border crossings because of the violence at “Nahr el-Bared”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/2007/06/the_neverending_crisis.php, leaves Lebanon with no land access to the outside world.

Syria has often used the border crossings to apply political pressure on Lebanon since the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

It could be a bit of a Syrian snit-fit in response to a delegation from the Arab League that is in town at the request of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority. The anti-Syrian bloc is demanding Arab states intervene with Syria to stop its interference in Lebanese affairs and Damascus’ alleged weapons smuggling to various armed groups.

Syria is feeling the heat from the imposition of the International tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN charter earlier this month, and this will put the Lebanon pressure cooker under more pressure.

There’s Competence and Then There’s “Competence”

I’m coming a bit late to this because of server problems, but it’s something that’s been bugging me about the whole Reid-Pace “competence” imbroglio.
The question nagging at me is not who called whom incompetent or whether Reid was wrong or right to do so. I mean, Pace had just been fired, so Reid’s not that far off calling the former chair of the joint chief’s abilities into question.
No, what I wonder is why Reid’s comments didn’t get picked up by the bloggers in the conference call.
Why did the almost all of the liberal bloggers deny he said that Pace was incompetent when from the “transcript posted on Talking Points Memo”:http://electioncentral.tpmcafe.com/blog/electioncentral/2007/jun/14/obtained_a_tape_of_reids_conference_call_with_bloggers_reid_did_blast_pace, he did, and it appears pretty clear he’s talking about Pace? Did they screw up or are they trying to cover Reid’s ass, since he’s “on their team,” so to speak?
Now, I say this as a blogger with both indy cred — you’re reading it — and strong ties to the so-called MSM. But if bloggers are supposed to be an alternative/side dish or even an antidote to the excesses and failings of the mainstream press, why did they miss this? It’s a genuinely Big Deal, so was it a miss or a willful omission?
If it was a willful omission, it’s a horrible one. And it would prove that most liberal blogs — or conservative ones — shouldn’t be considered credible alternatives to anything if they can’t step up to their responsibility and report on newsworthy items even if it might get “their guy” in hot water. The right-wing blogosphere has had this problem for years now. Has it infected the left side as well?
On the other hand, if it’s a mistake, it’s a doozy. Any reporter who missed that would be tarred and feathered by editors. (And it’s significant that mainstream reporters in were the ones who broke this story, even though bloggers had every opportunity to break it.) So, why are the bloggers given a free pass on this lapse?
Indeed, it was Talking Points Memo itself that in 2002 was instrumental in bringing down another Senate majority leader. The mainstream press was heckled and criticized for missing Lott’s noxious comments. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)
But shouldn’t bloggers — in a friggin’ conference call with the current Senate majority Leader, for crissakes — need to be held to the same standards of accountability and, dare I say it, competence, that they hold the MSM to? Why the double standard?

Back Up and Running

BEIRUT — Hello all. Here at Back-to-Iraq.com, we’re back up and running at our new, zippy servers at LivingDot.com (who have been lovely, really.) Yahoo has been left in the dust, which was a long time coming. The domain may take a little while to propagate out, but within a couple of days, things should be back to normal.
This downtime came at a terrible time, what with things hotting up up north at Nahr el-Bared and Iraq always on fire. I’ve also got a nasty eye problem at the moment that prevents me using the computer for long, but that also should be cleared up in a couple of days.
In other news, I’m due to start a column for Spot-on.com soon, which will in theory put me on the Op-Ed pages of the Washington Post.. Look for that to happen this week or next.
I’m also the new US media roundup writer for IraqSlogger.com, Eason Jordan’s amazing all-Iraq news site. Please be sure and check it out.
So, as soon as the eye gets better, I’ll see you all (heh) then. In the mean time, I’ll bug Johannes to write some more posts.