Who decided to attack IDF soldiers on Tuesday?Yedioth Aharonoth analyst Ronen Bergman claims that Hezbullah was behind Tuesday's Lebanese Armed Forces attack on the IDF, and that Hezbullah higher-ups may have ordered the operation (for those who do not have Journal access, the full article is also here).
Sources in the Israeli intelligence community and in UNIFIL (the U.N. peacekeeping force at the border) that I spoke to yesterday believe that the incident was instigated by a Lebanese Army brigade commander who is a Shiite and Hezbollah supporter. Whether or not he acted with the knowledge of his superiors, top Lebanese brass backed him after the fact.According to Bergman, despite his meeting with Bashar al-Assad in Syria last December, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri still hates Hezbullah and would like to see his father's murderers brought to justice.
The more interesting question is whether the brigade commander at the border received prior approval from Hezbollah’s political chain of command. It’s hard to believe that the highly symbolic timing of the incident was coincidental. It was also convenient for another reason: The report of the international inquiry into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is expected to be published in a matter of days or weeks.
At Beirut's Daily Star, Michael Young goes a step further. Young claims that Hariri would be willing to let his father's killers go - for a price.
From the moment the prime minister visited Damascus last December, it was plain that he would be willing to bargain over the institution. But Hariri wants something very substantial in return for doing so, which likely means a mechanism allowing the state to exert control over Hizbullah’s weapons – most desirably through the party’s integration into the army.But is that even possible? In Nasrallah's speech on Tuesday night, he made clear that he takes orders only from Iran.
There was much speculation that when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Syria’s President Bashar Assad visited Beirut, they came with some sort of package deal in hand that would stabilize Lebanon. Even the theatrics of the summit seemed to suggest that stern messages were being disseminated: the king going off with Prime Minister Saad Hariri; Assad sitting down with Hizbullah parliamentarians. This was a misreading. Hizbullah showed few signs of wholeheartedly endorsing the reassuring bromides issued from the summit, let alone a specific deal, and Nasrallah made the point in his speech that Lebanon awaited the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the same spirit as it did those of the Arab leaders. In other words the party was really bound only by what Iran said.And Iran doesn't want a war right now. It wants to save its 'Hezbullah card' for the likely inevitable war over its nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, Syria is playing Hezbullah and the Lebanese government off against each other.
Bergman speculates that both Hezbullah and Syria may be interested in a limited war to distract attention from the Hariri investigation. Tuesday's attack may have been an attempt to initiate that war. Bergman says it almost succeeded.
The initial reaction of senior Israeli military figures to the sniper attack was to urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to implement contingency plans to bomb Lebanese Army camps, Hezbollah strongholds and Beirut’s power stations. But rapid diplomatic intervention by the United States and France prevented a resounding military response by Israel, which could have led to a wider conflagration. Instead, Israel opted for a small-scale response which killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist who had been invited ahead of time by the Lebanese army to witness the sniper attack.Israel and Lebanon have no interest in a war right now. But that doesn't mean there won't be one. As for Hariri wanting to gain control over Hezbullah's arms by integrating them into the Lebanese Armed Forces, that would probably take a civil war for which most Lebanese don't have the stomach.