At last count, the British and the French said there was not going to be an Israeli attack on Lebanon, but Nostradamus did. Now the IDF is running military exercises on the Lebanese border, but Obama has apparently warned Beirut that Israel will attack if Hezbollah receives surface to air missiles.
In more recent news, and returning to the French, President Sarkozy has said that Israel might strike Iran because of the latter’s nuclear threat, adding that France had proof that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon. If that were to happen there is no guarantee that the Iranian backed Hezbollah would not stay on the sidelines. Furthermore, the French refused to give Lebanon a guarantee that Israel would not attack Lebanon (furthering speculation), but did guarantee that it would try to dissuade Israel from attacking.
Hezbollah meanwhile continued its saber-rattling. In response to the Israeli military movements, a senior Hezbollah official claimed that Israel feared a retribution for the death of Imad Mughniyeh – a senior Hezbollah member killed in Damascus in 2008 (Mughniyeh was killed in a car crash that Hezbollah called an Israel assassination; Israel denied involvement). Hezbollah – according to the French – is the main security threat to Lebanon and the reason why the French refused to send the LAF some modern military technology (specifically Gazelle helicopters).
The opinions in Israel surrounding the possibility of war is equally as divided as elsewhere. Yossi Peled – an Israeli minister without portfolio from the conservative Likud party – said on Thursday that the question of a third war with Lebanon was not one of ‘if’ but ‘when’. He continued to say that if conflict erupted with Hezbollah, Israel would attack all of Lebanon and Syria.
Israeli PM Netanyahu, on the other hand, has denied any intention to attack Lebanon. His defense minister – Ehud Barak – did warn Hezbollah last week not to attack Israel and reiterated the Israeli warning that it will hold Lebanon and any country (ahem…Syria and Iran) which backs Hezbollah accountable.
Personally, I think any conflict this year will be the result of a serious miscalculation by Nasrallah or Netanyahu. If Israel attacks Lebanon, it faces the possibility of hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah rockets raining down across Israel – reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Presumably, an attack on Lebanon would result in more Syrian and Iranian backing of the Islamic group and, if Israel does attack Syria as well, the region would face serious consequences to the current relatively stable, yet fragile, peace.
Nasrallah is heading a Hezbollah that is certainly stronger than it was in 2006 – it may even have surface to air missiles that would help mitigate Israels advantages in an offensive. However, he knows that Israel is stronger as well. He must realize the destruction that would befall Lebanon in the event of a conflict. If Hezbollah is seen as the aggressor, the group would lose influence in Lebanon – something that didn’t happen in 2006 as the group was seen as defending the country. Furthermore, after the 2006 war, Nasrallah admitted that if he had known the extent of Israel’s wrath before the war (*a reminder that the invasion of Lebanon was justified by Israel as a retaliation for the abduction of IDF soldiers in Israel by Hezbollah*), he would have reconsidered his actions that helped lead to such carnage.
A very unstable and fragile peace should hold between Lebanon and Israel for the near future. The political consequences for the leaders of Hezbollah and Israel are too high to be reckless. Of course, this does not reduce the possibility that an accidental war could arrive.
Photo from Ya Libnan