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Hezbollah Co-Opts Lebanon's Army

Israeli Leaders: 'We Hold Lebanese Government Directly Responsible For Lebanese Army Attack Inside Israeli Territory' - One IDF Officer Shot Dead & Another Seriously Wounded

Hezbollah Leader Sheik Nasrallah: 'We Ordered Hezbollah Fighters In The Area To Hold Their Fire While Telling Lebanon's Army Commander That Hezbollah Was At His Service'

IsraCast Assessment: While All The Details Are Incomplete There Are Indications That Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah Stage Managed The Attack To Draw Attention Away From Lebanon's Internal Tensions & to Co-opt Lebanon's Army Into Confrontation With Israel.

Lt.Col.(res.) Dov Harari

 One day after the deadly sniping attack by the Lebanese army that killed one IDF officer and wounded another, Israel declared it will continue the routine, necessary and legitimate clearing of underbrush inside Israeli territory. Four Lebanese soldiers were reportedly killed and several others wounded when Israel responded to the sudden cross border attack from Lebanon. The sniper fire by Lebanese Army soldiers, who traditionally stay out of clashes between Hezbollah and Israel, came as a major surprise. So did Lebanese soldiers on the spot take things into their own hands and launch a 'local initiative' or has Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah now co-opted the Lebanese Army, while Lebanon's political leadership is powerless to restrain Hezbollah?

 It was the most serious incident on the Israeli Lebanese border since the Second Lebanon War erupted in the summer of 2006. Lebanese soldiers suddenly opened fire on an IDF position inside Israeli territory. Lt.Col.(res.) Dov Hararri, who was about to finish his last stint of reserve duty, was killed and another reserve officer Capt.Ezra Lakia was seriously wounded in the chest. They were shot without any prior warning by Lebanese Army snipers hiding inside a nearby building the village Adeisseh, just over the border. Israeli troops returned fire, and the Lebanese Army then lobbed mortar bombs into Israel. Israeli choppers and artillery then hit a Lebanese army position in the vicinity. At one point, the Lebanese through the UN peace keeping forces called for a cease-fire in order to evacuate some of their wounded men. The IDF complied but a half hour later, several RPGs , rocket propelled grenades were fired at an IDF tank and firefight again erupted.

Capt.Ezra Lakia, seriously wounded

What are the facts that have so far emerged? The IDF says the troops at the position were clearing brush and this had been coordinated in advance with the UNIFIL forces in the region. This type of work is not unusual. It involved a truck with a fork that was extended over the security fence to clear away underbrush on the other side. Actually, Israel's security fence is not located on the border itself but further back inside Israeli territory. (Some foreign TV networks, such as Britain's SKY, assumed incorrectly that because the shovel of the IDF truck was extended over the security fence that technically the IDF had violated Lebanese territory.) After investigating the incident, UNIFIL has reportedly reached the conclusion that the IDF had not violated Lebanese territory.

Israel is taking a grave view of what has all the trappings of well planned ambush. What is so surprising is that it was perpetrated by the Lebanese Army, which usually does not get involved in the ongoing confrontation between Israel and the Heballah, the radical Shiites who take their orders from Iran. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it a flagrant violation of UN Security Council Resolution # 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Netanyahu held the Lebanese government directly responsible for what he called the violent provocation against Israel. In his words: ' Israel had acted and would react in the future to all attempts to violate the quiet along the northern border or to harm Israeli civilians or the soldiers who protect them'.

IDF forces evacuating Southern Lebanon, 2000

Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a similar statement warning the Lebanese government against any fresh provocations and demanded that it investigate who was behind the murderous attack. Barak also called on UNIFIL to fulfill its mission - to investigate and act to prevent similar cases. The Defense Minister also expected the international community to condemn the Lebanese action adding the IDF would not hesitate to act against further provocations. Back in the year 2000, Barak had carried out a total evacuation of IDF troops from southern Lebanon and today he said this had proved that Israel sought peace with her northern neighbor.

So what lies behind this sudden aggression by the Lebanese Army? Was it a 'local intiative' carried out on its own by a local military units or part of something much bigger. And why did Hezbollah, Israel's arch enemy in Lebanon, not join the fray? In a speech marking four years to the Second Lebanon War with Israel, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah made some startling revelations. Nasrallah said the Lebanese message to Israel was clear: 'Lebanon and that included all sectors of the state will resist any harm coming to one centimeter of its sacred soil or any violation of its sovereignty'. The Hezbollah leader was speaking as if he were the real prime minister of Lebanon. He went on to say: 'Hezballah will not be neutral - Lebanese soldiers are our brothers'. And then an even more amazing twist. Nasrallah disclosed that when the fighting broke out between the IDF and the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah fighters were actually in the village of Adeisseh and other nearby villages but: 'We ordered them not to react. We stood behind the Lebanese Army but did not initiate any action and I told the Commander of Lebanon's National Army that we were at his service!' In other words, no one should blame Hezbollah for the clash, it was the Lebanese Army's affair. And Nasrallah added that Hezbollah would not sit idle in any future clashes.

Hassan Nasrallah

So why did Nasrallah, so out of character, order Hezbollah to sit on the sidelines today? The answer may be in the ongoing Lebanese crisis. An investigation by the International Court of Justice has reportedly reached the conclusion that a leading Hezbollah commander was responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The U.S. and France had pushed for the investigation believing that Syria would be accused. However the fact that Hezbollah would now be blamed for killing the father of the current Lebanese Prime Minister Said Harirri could spark an internal bloodbath and split the Lebanese even farther asunder. Ironically, Lebanon's current leader Said Hariri is trying to dissuade the inquiry from revealing the killer of his own father. So, the indications are that Nasrallah instigated Lebanese soldiers, of whom many are Shiite Muslims, to carry out the attack on the IDF position and thereby embroil the Lebanese Army in a bloody skirmish with Israel. All the while, Hezballah stayed clear of the fighting thrusting the National Lebanese Army into the forefront and then making his speech about how all Lebanon is at war against Israel. Moreover, he gets two birds with his one stone. It not only draws attention away from the tension over the Hariri inquiry and focuses it on the Israeli border but also co-opts the Lebanese Army, which has tried to stay neutral, into a bloody clash with Israel. In the past, Hezbollah has often been described as 'a state within a state' waging its own private war against Israel.

Nasrallah is now making the case, that Hezbollah and Lebanon are one and the same by even pretending that Hezbollah 'is at the service of the Lebanese Army'. However, both Netanyahu and Barak warned the rest of the Lebanese leadership of the consequences, if they acquiesce in what appears to be Hezbollah's brazen attempt to dictate the Lebanese agenda.

Conclusions:

If it is true that Nasrallah stage managed the shooting of two unsuspecting IDF officers, the Hezbollah leader would be well advised to remain hiding in his underground bunker. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak warned the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people they could kiss goodbye to their current prosperity, if their Lebanese Army has in effect now joined the ranks of Hezballah. In addition, it is also conceivable that an Israeli admonition will be conveyed to Beirut via third parties. Until this latest provocation, Israel was willing to accept a distinction between Hezbollah and the rest of the Lebanese - that consideration will go by the board, if Nasrallah is right and Hezbollah and Lebanon are now one and the same.

Finally, the Lebanese Army ambush, was a bolt out of the blue that recalled the fateful Hezbollah cross border raid in 2006 that killed eight IDF soldiers, abducted two others and triggered the Second Lebanon War. It was a full blown casus belli which Nasrallah later said he regretted. The Lebanese government in Beirut would do well to get its house in order before Lebanon's Army and/or Hezbollah repeat the same mistake.

David Essing

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