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Lebanon's first responders prepare in case of war.

Summary: Emergency response units say they are certain Lebanon would be better prepared for different sources of conflict, following several months of provocative rhetoric that has raised the possibility of war between Lebanon and Israel.

BEIRUT: Emergency response units say they are certain Lebanon would be better prepared for different sources of conflict, following several months of provocative rhetoric that has raised the possibility of war between Lebanon and Israel.

"In Lebanon, there is a lack of stability. We're constantly preparing ourselves for a variety of scenarios, not just war with Israel," Lebanese Red Cross Secretary-General Georges Kettaneh told The Daily Star.

There has been relative calm between Israel and Lebanon since August 2006. However, the confrontational discourse of prominent figures in both Israel and Lebanon has raised concerns about a conflict.

Lebanon's turbulent history has given its emergency responders years of wartime experience.

"There was a lot of learning after 2006. We're better equipped to deal with erratic electricity cuts and [the] type of crisis situations that come from war," Kettaneh said. "We have also learned how to train our employees and how to sustain our programs," he added.

Kettaneh highlighted the LRC's rigor in the recruitment of volunteers. The secretary-general also said that the unpaid status of volunteers didn't affect their numbers or reliability in times of conflict.

Organization was a critical aspect in allowing the LRC to properly respond in times of crisis, Kettaneh explained. Focusing on details was also integral to improving the LRC's ability to react to emergency responses, particularly when dispatching to remote areas.

"We are constantly updating our knowledge and rebuilding our skills," he said.

The 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon ended with both sides claiming victory and resulted in the deaths of 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them military.

Serving as the emergency medical services director of the LRC during the conflict, Kettaneh said that the Israel directly targeted the LRC, which posed significant issues.

"While we were transferring [patients], ambulances were frequently targeted. For this reason, the LRC worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross," he said, implying that the international branch would coordinate with Israeli to prevent assaults on medical units.

"We would inform the ICRC about the [patient] and the routes we would be taking so they could protect us," Kettaneh added.

A spokesperson of the ICRC in Lebanon, Soraya Dali-Balta, confirmed that the organization did work to protect the LRC's emergency medical teams and continues to work closely with the LRC. She could not confirm that there was coordination with Israel in 2006.

The ICRC has seen "exponential growth" in is capacity since 2006, Dali-Balta told The Daily Star. The Syrian refugee crisis has forced an increase in the ICRC's personnel and emergency-response capabilities.

"The ICRC is therefore equipped nowadays to respond to a hypothetical upsurge of violence in terms of food and nonfood item supply [and] medical support to health facilities," she said.

Timur Goksel, a former spokesperson and senior advisor for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, remarked on UNIFIL's transformation following the 2006 conflict in south Lebanon and north Israel.

Goksel said he personally communicated with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Israeli leaders during the conflict.

"In 2006, UNIFIL had already been downsized considerably. It had left most of this area, manpower was reduced considerably and had nothing to offer the local people," Goksel said. "At the time, the LRC provided [the] majority of the emergency response. UNIFIL did help, but it was limited to a couple of villages."

Prior to the 2006 war, UNIFIL's mandate did not include the protection of civilians. The devastation of the monthlong war forced a reconsideration of the peacekeeping group's mission. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 effectively ended the conflict between Lebanon and Israel and mandated an increase in UNIFIL's size. The resolution also extended UNIFIL's responsibilities to include "humanitarian access to civilian populations."

"Now, UNIFIL is completely different. It has considerable medical services it didn't have in 2006. Now, there are three or four medical service [centers] in different areas run by major European countries," Goksel said. "God forbid, [if] something like this happens today [in] addition to the LRC there will be UNIFIL. UNIFIL will be the first responders, no doubt about it," Goksel added.

At an Israeli security conference in June, the chief of Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, declared that Israel would go "all out" if war were to break out with Lebanon. Eshel added that Israel had the capacity to inflict the cumulative damage of the 34-day conflict in 2006 in just "two to three days."

Following these comments, Hezbollah's Civil Defense teams conducted simulated responses to potential hostilities against civilians in front of a crowd in Haret Saida, in the eastern suburbs of Sidon, last month.

Organizers of the event said that the demonstrations were part of Quds Day celebrations, an annual event established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that takes place on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.

"Of course, we don't want it to happen, but if war were to happen, Lebanon is much better prepared than before," Goksel said.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jul 7, 2017
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