Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Third Lebanon War May be on the Horizon

Is Nasrallah miscalculating?

It's been fairly quiet along the Gaza-Israel border, hasn't it? Well, actually, no. Approximately 107 Kassam rockets and 66 mortar shells have been fired by Palestinians at Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead on January 18, 2009. Shells hit yesterday at the Erez crossing meters from ambulances about to evacuate Gazan heart patients for treatment in Israel; Kibbutz Alumim was also targeted.

Despite what Palestinian supporters call the "siege of Gaza," Israel routinely trucks-in tons of food and supplies to the hostile Strip and is responsive to humanitarian appeals for medical evacuations. But the "siege" - such as it is - ought to continue until IDF soldier Gilad Schalit is released and Hamas abides by the demands of the civilized world to end terrorism, recognize Israel and assume as binding previous commitments made by the Palestinian Authority.

To it credit, Human Rights Watch has belatedly - ok, very belatedly - labeled Hamas's bombardment of Israeli civilians a "war crime." For the most part, however, unless Israel retaliates in a robust manner, no one takes much notice of how many rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel.

THE more worrisome - for now - powder keg is along the border with Hizbullah-subjugated Lebanon.

Last month a huge Hizbullah arms depot located on the outskirts of Khirbet Slem blew up, sending shock waves across the border. In an atypical reprimand, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy publicly criticized Hizbullah for violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (which brought the Second Lebanon War to an end in the summer of 2006). In the past three years, Hizbullah has been illegally replenishing its weapons, which are mainly shipped by its Iranian patrons with Syrian connivance.

Hizbullah seems intent on carrying out a mega-terror attack in Israel or the Diaspora ostensibly in retaliation for the 2008 liquidation in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh, the group's principal terror-master. The likelihood may be that Hizbullah will attack an Israeli airliner, diplomat or some Jewish target abroad. Meanwhile it has been engaging in psychological warfare - blasting the muezzin's call to prayer across the border and sending its operatives, dressed in civilian clothes, to the border fence.

Last week on Israel Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak sent a warning to Hizbullah: An attack against Israeli or Jewish targets anywhere would result in painful reprisals against Lebanon's infrastructure as well as Hizbullah strongholds. On Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reiterated that Israel would hold not only Hizbullah, but the Beirut government responsible for violence initiated in Lebanon. And yesterday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu added his voice, warning Lebanon/Hizbullah not to attack because if it did Beirut will be held responsible.

In an amiable interview with Al-Jazeera on Sunday - there was some joking about whether a jet passing overhead was Israeli - Hashem Safi al-Din, who is chairman of Hizbullah's executive council, taunted our defense minister: Act "foolishly" and "the war of the summer of 2006 will look like a joke," he warned. While asserting that Hizbullah did not seek war with Israel, Safi al-Din let drop that, "Today we are more powerful, and this is thanks to the 2006 victory, which is why we think the Israeli threats are hollow and meaningless." The "resistance," he claimed, has long possessed "rockets that can reach every house in Tel Aviv."

It is hard to know whether Lebanese internal political developments are contributing to Hizbullah's jingoism. Lebanon elected a new parliament in June when Hizbullah supposedly suffered an electoral setback; yet the formation of a government is still far-off. The ever-mercurial Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, has switched sides - sort off - from the Christian-Sunni March 14 Coalition to cast the fate of his people with the Shi'ites.

IN August 2006, Hassan Nasrallah admitted that had he appreciated the ferocity of Israel's response to Hizbullah's aggression, he would have never sent his men across the border. Now, with new weapons in-hand, Nasrallah may calculate that Israel will abjure hard-hitting retaliation, even for a mega-terror attack, in order to keep its population safe from reprisal bombardment in a third Lebanon war.

It would be too bad for us all if Nasrallah's destiny was to keep making the same stupid mistake.

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