As the international community focuses its attention on Syria and how to respond to the growing likelihood that Syrian President Bashar Assad
has used chemical weapons on a civilian population, Israel’s attention is focused as much on Lebanon as on Syria.
Lebanese security forces arrested a suspect over the weekend in a double bombing in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli on Friday that killed at least 47 people, and wounded some 500, including dozens who were said to be in critical condition. The Lebanese National News Agency said the suspect, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghareeb, has ties to a Sunni organization that has close ties with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah
The attacks raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon, which had already been tense. Hundreds of well-trained Hezbollah troops have been fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad, supporting his Alawite
regime. The Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Israeli officials are concerned that the civil war in Syria, which has already spilled over into Lebanon, will affect Israel too. Israel shares a border with both Syria and Lebanon.
“We had nothing to do with the bombings in Tripoli,” an Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “There’s a high probability that it was Hezbollah,
but no certainty.”
The mosque explosions came a day after gunmen fired four rockets at northern Israel for the first time in more than two years. Two of the long-range Katyusha rockets hit a kibbutz in northern Israel. A third projectile was destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Israel responded with a pinpoint attack on what the military called “terrorist targets” between Beirut
The Lebanese Army said an “unknown group” fired the rockets and Israeli officials said they believed it was not Hezbollah, but “global jihad elements.”
“This is not the beginning of something new,” the Israeli official said. “We’ve had other similar one-off rocket shooting by rogue global jihad organizations.”
Israeli analysts say that the deteriorating situation in Syria is affecting both Lebanon and Israel,
and the tenuous balance of power that had existed among them.
“Syria’s disintegration has affected Lebanon and the deterrence balance that existed between us and Hezbollah is no longer tenable”, Shmuel Bar, the director of studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzliya told The Media Line. “There are also other elements within the Lebanese theater which want to prove they are capable of causing problems.”
Bar believes that neither Hezbollah nor Assad are interested in an all-out conflict with Israel. However, Syria, and its ally, Hezbollah, could try to pre-empt an American attack on Syria in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, by striking at Israel.
The Syrians have an interest in heating up the Israeli front as a message to the Americans saying, “If you’re contemplating any kind of military attack on Syria, look what we can do to your friends, the Israelis, and look at how we can destabilize Lebanon,” Bar said.
He says that Israel’s “security envelope” is based on two elements. The first is Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and agreements with the Palestinian Authority that call for them to prevent terrorism. The other element is deterrence toward Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. That deterrence is now being challenged.
At the same time, most Israeli analysts say that neither Assad nor Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah wants to open another front with Israel. Hezbollah has some 40,000 missiles that can reach most parts of Israel, and Syria has long-range missiles, both conventional and chemical. Yet Israeli officials believe that, at least in the short run, these weapons will stay where they are, without being fired.
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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