Israel is closely monitoring the political crisis in Lebanon heightened by the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and the toppling of the Hariri government Wednesday. In the backdrop of international efforts to prevent a civil war, sources in Israel's security establishment said Thursday that the next few days will be crucial for Lebanon and that any developments there may affect the entire region.
On Thursday, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked Prime Minister Hariri to remain as head of a caretaker administration after the collapse of his government, the national news agency said.
Meanwhile, various elements in Lebanon have addressed the recent crisis in various media outlets. Lebanese Army Chief Jean Kahwagi ruled out the possibility of a civil war in an interview with a Qatari newspaper and said "the various political leaders will not provide such free service to the enemies of Lebanon led by Israel, which is constantly working to divide Lebanon and weaken the spirit of resistance."
General Kahwagi sent a calming message and said that recent events are not a reason for concern "as the political developments, including the dispute over the international tribunal and indictment drafts, are derived from Lebanon's democracy."
He further stated that there was a way out of the current crisis which can be resolved by the Lebanese people's faith in their country and army, which will protect Lebanon's stability.
Lebanese state officials told a Kuwaiti newspaper the timing of the Hezbollah ministers' resignation was meant to embarrass Prime Minister Hariri in his meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Senior Hezbollah officials also commented on the crisis and said Thursday that all options were open, including negotiations with the prime minister. Lebanese media reported that the same sources said that "the next step depends on Hariri's political camp and its reaction to the resignation. However, we shall not go back. What has been achieved between Saudi Arabia and Syria is the bear minimum we can accept. We will not accept any agreement which will impede these efforts."
The Hezbollah elements also addressed its future steps. "The movement seeks security stability and would like to avoid negative developments but it will wait to see the other camp's response. Hezbollah has a game plan and is fully prepared both for internal developments and outside developments, particularly opposite the Israeli enemy."
Meanwhile, the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, reported that Lebanese opposition elements have informed President Suleiman that as far as they're concerned Hariri will not be returning to function as prime minister as he is "unfit to take responsibility as past experience shows."
Shortly after the resignation of the opposition ministers and as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri heads back from the United States international efforts to solve the crisis have already been ignited. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spoke to the Saudi king while Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa discussed the matter with various elements in the Arab world. Hariri is scheduled to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday and has called Turkey, Qatar and other nations to step in.
The Arab world is concerned with the recent developments in Beirut fearing that an internal Lebanese conflict will affect the entire region.
Arab League chief Moussa urged Arab states Wednesday to help Lebanon find a way out of the current crisis lest it descend into a civil war.
IDF: No special deployment
Israeli security officials are closely monitoring developments in Lebanon, however the Israel Defense Forces have not made any special deployment changes as of yet. Security elements said that there is a possibility that the crisis in Lebanon will spill over to Israel as the international tribunal prepares to charge Hezbollah for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. If Hezbollah finds itself in a bind, it may turn attention towards Israel by carrying out terrorist attacks.
"Hezbollah has yet to avenge the murder of Mughniyeh which he blames Israel for and could possibly use this as an excuse," one security element told Ynet. "Nevertheless, it does not appear Hezbollah would be quick to do so, primarily due to the fact that it fears an Israeli response and its consequences, not just for the organization itself, but for Lebanon as well."
IDF soldiers patrolling along the northern border (Photo: AFP)
Is there a chance Hezbollah will open a front against Israel to avoid domestic pressure? There is a possibility but it currently seems unlikely. While the group is ready to stand up against Israel having drawn lessons from the Second Lebanon War, it has no real interest in doing so.
The Lebanese economy's growth rate measured 7% last year thanks to two aspects which rely on a state of calm – tourism and the stock market. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah needs to maintain this calm in order for Lebanon to continue to thrive and to be able to focus on finding a legitimate political way out of the Hariri probe entanglement.
Recently, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi addressed the situation in Lebanon and estimated that there is little chance that tensions will spill over to Israel. Nevertheless, the army is aware that the state of calm along the northern border can shatter in a matter of seconds. "Currently, there are no changes in our deployment. We have nothing to do with their domestic issues and will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli citizens," a military source said.
Hanan Greenberg and Reuters contributed to this report
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