~ Today, Lebanese and Israelis awoke to find that (although the countries are still officially at war) the skirmish between the IDF and LAF yesterday has not escalated into a sequel of the 2006 war that killed at least 1,500 people. Of course, the international relief due to the absence of hot war today is only matched by an increased concern that the two sides are only preparing to resume the conflict.
The brief firefight occurred along the disputed Blue Line that separates Lebanon from Israel when the IDF apparently tried to cut down a tree on the Lebanese side of the border in order to secure a video camera. While the Israelis maintain that they remained in Israeli territory, the video above clearly shows the IDF using a crane to work in Lebanese territory.
In perhaps a lucky display of restraint, the clash yesterday did not involve any Hezbollah soldiers. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that the altercation would have been more intense and prolonged had the LAF been replaced or even aided by members of Hezbollah. Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, did mention that his group would not remain on the sidelines if there was a repeat of yesterday’s events – an announcement that has the whole region thankful that the incident was isolated.
~ In related and slightly amusing news, part of the Israeli reaction to border blows yesterday – in addition to predictably blaming the Lebanese – was to call for the US to stop giving military aid to Lebanon. Haaretz reports that the Israeli government is upset that the US and France have provided the LAF with nearly $400 million in aid over the last year to strengthen the Lebanese forces against Hezbollah. The problem, apparently, is that Washington is doing this without the permission of Tel Aviv. The first amusing aspect of this complaint is that Washington should need Israel’s permission to continue its policy in the region. The second is that the US has given Israel over $1.6 trillion since 1973, including over $1 billion to fund the Israeli anti-missile projects.
If reports about the border skirmish are correct, the LAF used semi-automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades – hardly high-tech weaponry – while Israel responded with mortars and attacks from helicopters. The balance of military power (is the word balance even appropriate here?) is so skewed in Israel’s favor, yet the state is still planning to lobby Congress to cut military funding for Lebanon.
~ In another interesting and related story, much has been made lately of the Special Tribunal in Lebanon (STL – who is in charge of investigating the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri). There is speculation that the STL is prepared to accuse Hezbollah members of the murder – a turn of events that many fear could drag the country into another civil war. Interestingly, Nasrallah, perhaps in response to the recent border dispute, has announced that he hold proof that Israel killed the former PM and is ready to reveal it next week.
It is difficult to imagine what evidence Nasrallah holds. The STL has been working for years to uncover the truth in what is a complex and twisted assassination story. If Hezbollah really possessed any evidence of Israeli involvement, why has it kept the information secret? The most likely reason is that Nasrallah is trying to deflect blame as much as possible – and who better to blame than Israel?