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As the raging war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas continues unabated in its third month and the southern “solidarity front” initiated by Hezbollah escalates, the risk of a repetition of the 1978 Israeli incursion in south Lebanon to establish a buffer zone is growing.

Western diplomatic sources insisted on the urgent need for “a proper and correct implementation” of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to avoid such a scenario that is gaining momentum in Israel.

Drawing on the similarities of conditions that exist today and in 1978, when Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas were entrenched in south Lebanon to launch attacks against northern Israel, the sources cautioned that Israel will seek to secure its northern settlements “at any cost” and “by any means.”

“Western efforts are concentrated on avoiding war, knowing that the Israelis are eager and keen to do what they know how to do well, impose a sort of buffer zone to protect their population in the north of the country,” a diplomatic source said.

The 1978 Israeli invasion dubbed “Operation Litani” aimed at pushing back the PLO guerrillas behind the Litani River. In response to the invasion, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425, which called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces. It also established the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), “for the purpose of restoring international peace and security and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.”

Today, Israel is calling for the “correct and proper” implementation of Resolution 1701 which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, namely Hezbollah. The resolution bans any armed presence south of the Litani River other than UNIFIL and the Lebanese army.

Western diplomatic sources denied any intention to amend or change 1701.

“It is not a question of changing the framework of 1701 or the terms of its application. It’s a question of ensuring its proper implementation by both sides, the Lebanese side as well as the Israeli side,” the sources said, adding, “This implies a halt to Israeli air incursions and a more assertive presence of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon.”

The sources ruled out any additional role for the French military outside the framework of UNIFIL, to which France is contributing 700 soldiers, although French diplomacy has been very active in Lebanon since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza on October 7.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, presidential envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian and the Director of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) Bernard Emié were among senior French officials who visited Lebanon lately to press for a de-escalation on the southern border between Hezbollah and Israel.

According to the diplomatic sources, France is keen to avoid a conflagration in Lebanon through negotiations aimed at restoring calm on the southern border.

“The important thing is to keep up a bit of a negotiating dynamic that delays any military flare-up on the ground. As long as they are talking and as long as there’s hope in the discussions, there’s less risk of a big clash,” a Western diplomatic source said.

Media reports from Israel’s Channel 12 and from the pan-Arab Al Hadath TV spoke of behind-the-scenes negotiations involving several countries to stabilize the southern border, with a focus on implementing UN Resolution 1701. The United States, France and various Arab nations are reportedly actively participating in these talks, aiming to ensure the security of the Israeli towns and settlements along the border.

Key highlights from the reports include the proposed relocation of Hezbollah forces north of the Litani River in accordance with Resolution 1701, and the deployment of an international force in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms and northern Ghajar areas.