Israel denies its F-16s fired on German ship

Thursday, October 26, 2006

TEL AVIV Israeli warplanes confronted a German Navy ship as tensions increased between the Jewish state and the expanded United Nations force in neighboring Lebanon.

Two Israeli F-16 multi-role fighters flew low over a German Navy vessel on Oct. 24. German defense sources and media reports said the warplanes fired twice at the ship. There were no reports of casualties, Middle East Newsline reported.

German Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said on Thursday that six Israeli F-16 fighters fired shots and ejected flares while flying over the vessel. Raabe told German television that Berlin was discussing the incident with Jerusalem.

Israeli officials acknowledged that the F-16s flew close to the German vessel. But they said the aircraft did not open fire.

"There was no shooting," an Israeli military source said. "But there is a problem of lack of coordination with UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon]."

Israeli and German sources said the incident led to high level defense contacts between Berlin and Jerusalem. The German daily Der Tagesspiegel quoted a German junior defense minister as telling parliament that the F-16s also activated infrared countermeasures to protect against ship fire.

On Oct. 15, Germany assumed command of a United Nations naval force off Lebanon. The force has been comprised of eight ships and meant to prevent weapons transfers to Hizbullah.

"This could be the start of a confrontation between the Israeli military and the United Nations forces in Lebanon," Yoav Limor, the military analyst for Israel state television, said.

On Thursday, the UN naval force launched an exercise with the Lebanese Navy. The two-day exercise took place in the Mediterranean between Beirut and Tyre.

An Israeli military statement said that on Oct. 24 Israeli fighter-jets investigated the deployment of a German Navy vessel and helicopter in the Mediterranean Sea near the Israeli town of Rosh Hanikra. The statement, issued on Wednesday, said the helicopter flew near the Israeli coast without coordination.

"As a security measure, IAF aircraft were diverted to the area in order to investigate," the statement said. "The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] stresses that at no point did IDF aircraft fire at the German forces."

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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