The Middle East remains a cauldron of unpredictability. Mere months ago, a fundamentalist regime, openly hostile to Israel, ruled in Egypt. Almost overnight, a group of military officers seized power, and remarkably, they managed to do so while maintaining the popular support of the Egyptian people. Then, remarkably, passed a new Constitution via national referendum, and pulled Egypt back from what some analysts believed was inevitable conflict between Egypt and Israel.
Just last summer, the Syrian civil war was nearing its end and the Assad regime was on the ropes. Now Assad seems as firmly entrenched as his army, and it is his enemies who are on the ropes, even if he is losing his supply of chemical weapons. Into the power vacuum created by the faltering Assad opposition, al-Qaeda-related Jihadist groups are rushing in, further destabilizing the region, and presenting a host of new challenges for Assad.
Added to this chaotic landscape, Hezbollah and Israel, while remaining unmistakably enemies, suddenly find themselves facing a common threat and enemy in the shape of radical Sunni Islam. Over the past week, a group linked to al-Qaeda have taken responsibility for no less than four bombing attacks.
The group, whose leader Majid al-Majid died two weeks ago under mysterious circumstances while in detention in a Lebanese hospital, promised to continue in the path of its commander: “We will strike Iran and its party [Hezbollah] and the aggressive Jews in order to protect the Sunnis.”
This is most assuredly not empty rhetoric. Israeli security forces on the ground have come into the possession of hard evidence of attempts by jihadist groups based out of Lebanon to attack both Israeli and Hezbollah targets, and when and where possible, to attempt to create rising tensions between the two groups.
For the moment, at least, the greater bulk of the global jihadist groups’ efforts are firmly focused on Hezbollah. But it is not impossible that in the future, members of these groups will shift their targets, putting Israel firmly in the crosshairs, in part at least, to further increase tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. In the worst case, this could even cause the two sides to be dragged into another military conflict that neither side wants just now.
Digging in along the Israeli border Hezbollah members don’t move around in uniform, or in organized fashion, but also, they don’t make much of an effort to hide their presence, and it is plain to the IDF forces stationed at the border that they are present. The Israelis know the vehicles they move in, and are wise to the game; when a “Television crew” arrives on the scene, and yet, fails to act in any way even remotely resembling a television crew, it isn’t hard to work out what’s going on.
More than once, Hezbollah activists have patrolled the area dressed as shepherds. But when three “shepherds” move around with just a handful of sheep, and have limited success in controlling them, they tend to stand out. It is clear that Hezbollah still enjoys strong support from the local population, but it is no longer as popular as it was at the end of the 2006 war.
The war it is waging in Syria has been waged at a cost measured in more than just body count. In some non-Shiite villages, the organization has become non grata. Recently, its members were chased out of the Sunni village of Marwahin. Nonetheless, the organization endures. Despite pressures from many fronts, it is clear that Hezbollah is preparing.
It has sent fully one-third of its fighting force to Syria, but more than a third continue to prepare for another round of hostilities against the IDF. It makes no attempts to hide the large scale excavation projects underway in Shiite towns and villages in the south. Current intelligence on the matter suggests that these efforts are aimed at digging a tunnel it can use to launch an attack inside Israel itself, and with more than 100,000 rockets at their disposal, such an attack would be deadly indeed.
For Israel, the threat represented by Hezbollah is sadly not limited to just “the next war.” A recent promise to avenge the blood of its senior commander Hassan Laqis, killed in Beirut last month — Hezbollah blames Israel — by one of the organization’s spokesmen, Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the newspaper al-Akhbar, is not regarded as an empty threat. “Wait and see,” he wrote. “I expect blood on the southern border.”
No doubt there are a number of high ranking figures pressing Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to respond to the assassination, in order to send a message to Israel that might deter them from carrying out similar attacks in the future. Nasrallah said in one of his recent speeches that Hezbollah “has an old, new, and renewed score to settle” with Israel.
Given its current condition, it is likely not seeking a broad, long running confrontation with the IDF, but it certainly seems prepared to initiate limited attacks of a kind designed to inflict maximum pain on Israel, without prompting them to engage in full scale war. "
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