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Israeli phone calls warn against rocket launches into Israel

I was in my apartment, at my desk, working.  It was exactly 6:47 p.m. on Wednesday — at least that's what my caller I.D. says.  The phone rang.  I thought it was my girlfriend, or an editor.  Usually, friends don't call on my landline.

"Hello, this is Ben," I said.  

But instead of journalistic inquiries about the morning's  rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel, or more casual inquiries about dinner arrangements that evening, a deep, angry male voice began speaking to me in Arabic. 

My foreign language skills are rudimentary, but I did understand this much: Someone was urgently and angrily delivering a message that had to do with the the State of Israel, Palestinians and Al Qaeda.  I caught the words "war" and "south."

I quickly realized  this call was a recorded message from the "State of Israel" (that's how the caller identifies himself) to the Lebanese.  And I had received the call.  

I hoped the message would repeat, so I started fumbling with a digital recorder I had on the desk.  No such luck.  The message ended and the line went dead.

I hung up the phone, looked at the caller I.D. 

"Caller Unavailable."

I googled "Israel phone calls Lebanon."  Apparently I was not the only journalist to receive the message.  Fortunately a reporter at a Lebanese newspaper also received the call, and spoke better Arabic than I,  because here's the translation, courtesey of

"To the citizens of south Lebanon. Do not deal with the Palestinians. Do not allow Al Qaeda or the General Command to launch rockets at Israel from pads deployed between your houses," Naharnet quotes the caller as saying.

"Remember the catastrophe and destruction you suffered in 1982 because of the Palestinian presence in the south."

"The State of Israel," the message ends, abruptly.

It sent a slight chill up my spine — I guess that's the point.  A call from Israel.  Like the phone calls in the film, "Scream."  Threats of violence, without the horror movie trivia.  And this is not the big screen.

The message worked: In an instant, I decided I had no absolutely no desire to launch any rockets tonight, or at any point in the future, into Israeli terrritory.

This is not the first time the Israelis have sent mass messages to the Lebanese.  During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, similar phone calls were made to landlines and cellphones here.  And Israeli fighter jets  dropped leaflets on Beirut, mocking Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and urging Lebanese to abandon support for his group.

This time, the calls come as both Hezbollah and the Israeli government have backed away from confrontational rhetoric.  Although Nasrallah has said his group is ready for "anything," and  warned Israel not to attack Lebanon, the group flatly denied  knowing anything about the rocket launches into Israel.  Israeli officials have dismissed the rocket attacks as the work of rogue Palestinian groups.

But Israeli fighter jets have reportedly been buzzing south Lebanon since the rockets were launched Wednesday, according to news reports and accounts from friends.  As Israel's Gaza offensive continues, the cease fire that ended the war in 2006 continues to hold.  But it is only that — a ceasefire. 

The Gaza offensive has sparked anger here, but also fear.  Lebanon has nearly recovered from Israel's destructive air campaign in 2006.  Hotels are booked, restaurants are packed.  But with each day the Gaza conflict continues, several Lebanese have told me they fear their country will somehow get dragged into it.