One should carefully read the report published by reputable French daily Le Figaro Tuesday about the Hezbollah arms smuggling operation. The report includes credible information, at an unprecedented scope and detail, regarding Iran’s effort to arm and fortify the Lebanese Shiite group with active Syrian assistance.
However, the main reason why this report deserves special attention has to do with the messages inherent in it and the timing of its publication. We can assume, with great degree of certainty, that whoever provided the reputable French newspaper with sensitive intelligence information wanted to achieve several aims.
The first aim is to slam the facts in the face of international public opinion, so that the UN, the West, Arab states and the global media won’t pretend to be surprised if and when Israel undertakes powerful, destructive strikes. Such actions would target the immense rocket and missile arsenal in Lebanon, as well as the states that contributed to establishing it, that is, Lebanon and Syria.
The French report is not the first one aiming to achieve this objective. In recent months, Israeli and global media outlets published a significant number of stories accompanied by detailed aerial photographs showing Hezbollah men training in Syria on using various types of missiles. The reports also revealed that Hezbollah places these arms in the midst of civilian populations and far away from Israel’s border, to make it difficult for the IDF to target the weapons (and so that Israel would be accused of war crimes against civilians should it act.)
In order to expose the plots of Hezbollah and its patrons, IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkott presented journalists (about three months ago) with detailed information and photos about Hezbollah’s deployment and arms depots at the southern Lebanon town of al-Khiyam. The efforts to prepare global public opinion in advance already proved themselves in the second Intifada and ahead of Operation Cast Lead as a critical component that grants Israel justification and relative freedom to act.
We can therefore assume that Israel, apparently in cooperation with France, is also behind the latest French report. France views itself as holding responsibility and special ties with Lebanon, and the information leaked by the French Defense Ministry (according to Le Figaro) constitutes a message to Lebanon and Syria in and of itself.
Syria targets fair game
The leak’s timing, right after Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, was meant to prove that France, just like Israel, treats the Iranian president’s threats seriously and is concerned by them. The report meant to prove, using facts and figures, that as opposed to Western commentary that viewed the Iranian president’s impassioned zeal as Mideastern arrogance that is empty of substance, we are dealing with a plan of action and available means to carry it out by Hezbollah, once it receives the green light from Tehran.
Another inherent message in the report is directed at Damascus. President Bashar Assad, who constantly declares his desire for peace with Israel, would have trouble explaining how such statements are commensurate with the flames he’s been fanning by helping Hezbollah (which operates in the heart of Damascus, several kilometers away from the Syrian presidential palace and under the watchful eye of Assad’s security services.)
The message was not only meant to embarrass the Syrian president, but also to indicate to him that Hezbollah’s headquarters and training camps in Syria are, in Israel’s view, legitimate targets and that he and his regime will be responsible for any damage sustained by Syria.
Another message directed at Syria, as well as at the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, is that their acts are transparent and that Israeli and Western intelligence agencies are aware of them. This also means that Israel’s flights above Lebanon are necessary, despite the UN condemnations. These spy missions are mostly needed in order to ascertain whether the Iranians, via the Syrians, are transferring what Israel refers to as “balance-breaking weapons” into Lebanon.
Such weapons include anti-aircraft missile batteries that would limit the Israel Air Force’s maneuvers, as well as long-term Scud missiles. Should such weapons be transferred nonetheless, Israel may respond with great force.
While the above messages will not bring about the termination of Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal, they serve Israel’s deterrent power and are supposed to grant it legitimacy for “disproportional” acts should such strikes be required in Lebanon, and possibly in Syria as well.
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