Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Possible Hezbollah Connection in Israeli-Lebanese Border Skirmish

Stratfor thinks there's a lot of good reasons that Hezbollah has its hand in the recent Israeli-Lebanese border skirmish. Quick summary:

1) Hezbollah has control of a large portion of the lower ranks of the military.
2) The UN is probably going to indict a number of high-ranking Hezbollah in the murder of the Lebanese Prime Minister.
3) Hezbollah wants to show Lebanon that it's a valuable/necessary force by making Israelis look like aggressors against Lebanon.

My worry is that it will actually work.

(Stratfor below)

August 3, 2010


Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Aug. 3 that his organization will "not stand silent" on the border clash between Lebanese and Israeli troops that resulted in the deaths of three Lebanese soldiers earlier in the day. In a line reminiscent of many Iranian speeches, Nasrallah said "the Israeli hand that targets the Lebanese army will be cut off." He also offered his organization's support to the Lebanese military, saying that the "smartest thing is to behave how we behaved. We told the Lebanese military -- we are prepared, we are with you, and we will help if needed."

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah fighters were on the scene of the border clash and intended to escalate the situation. STRATFOR sources in the Lebanese military do not believe Hezbollah fighters were directly involved in the skirmish, but there is reason to suspect the group was behind the instigation of the fighting. Hezbollah has significant influence over and an established presence in the already weak and fractured Lebanese army. The organization makes it a point to discharge a portion of its recruits after they serve two years in the military wing and then enlists them in the Lebanese army. This allows Hezbollah to both control the composition of the army's ranking officers and influence specific operations. This latest border skirmish could be an illustration of Hezbollah's influence over the Lebanese army.

Given that the Lebanese army typically refrains from confronting Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel during routine activities, such as maintenance and repair work on the security fence and perimeter, the decision by the Lebanese army patrol to fire on the IDF forces is anomalous, suggesting that the move was preplanned and perhaps driven by Hezbollah interests. The chief of Israel's Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot publicly described the incident as a "deliberate ambush."

Hezbollah -- and its patrons in Iran -- have a strong interest in raising the threat of a broader military confrontation, but Hezbollah has little desire to escalate the situation further and provoke an actual fight with the IDF for fear of incurring massive losses. Hezbollah is already under fire in Lebanon over a Special Tribunal probe into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri that is expected to indict Hezbollah members. The group is attempting to deflect blame and attention away from this probe and is using the incident to justify its existence as a resistance movement since the Lebanese army is incapable of defending itself on its own. The Lebanese army chief, as one source earlier indicated, could have also welcomed the border distraction to divert attention from the crisis over the tribunal (the army has no interest in confronting Hezbollah in such a domestic crisis and would rather have the focus shift to the Israeli threat). Meanwhile, Iran is attempting to use a crisis in Lebanon as a flashpoint in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq and the nuclear issue by illustrating another hot spot in the region where it holds the cards to cause trouble should Iranian demands go unfulfilled.

Though a number of political motivations appear to be in play with this border skirmish, and Iran can be expected to continue prodding Hezbollah, there is little indication so far that either Hezbollah or Israel intends to escalate the border clash into a more serious military confrontation.

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.
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