After noting that he usually tries “not to get worked up about reports of imminent war in the Middle East”, Iranian-born Israeli analyst Meir Javendanvar has just written, on the Real Clear World website, that “this time I really can’t shake the feeling that something ominous is about to happen, involving Hezbollah. It will either be a massive confrontation with Israel, or armed conflict inside Lebanon”.
Javendanfar says that “the recent [3 August] border skirmish” — when the IDF insisted on going ahead with a “routine maintenace” tree-trimming operation that left 3 Lebanese Army soldiers, one Lebanese journalist, and one IDF Captain dead, in a firefight that ensued — ” has actually made Hezbollah more popular inside Lebanon”.
It has made Hizballah more popular everywhere in the Arab world. And Hassan Nasrallah’s speech this past week — which many Western commentators thought offered little new — was regarded as an act of genius by many analysts here in the Palestinian West Bank [including East Jerusalem].
In the speech, Nasrallah said that it was his opinion, or belief, that Israel was behind the assassination of Lebanon’s then-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in mid-February 2005.
Under Western [particularly French] pressure, the UN has constituted a tribunal to investigate, indict and prosecute those responsible for the murder — which, the open assumption was, at first, the Syrian authorities. Syria has denied any involvement, but did pull its troops out of Lebanon — a development that France, in particular, had long called for — in April 2005.
Recently, Nasrallah reportedly indicated that he is aware that some members of Hizballah could be indicted by the UN Tribunal investigating the Hariri case.
After Nasrallah’s speech, the UN tribunal has asked him to hand over any evidence, or proof, he has of Israeli responsibility for Hariri’s death.
UPDATE: The Daily Star [Lebanese English-language newspaper] reported here that Hizballah “would d hand over data allegedly implicating Israel in the murder of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri to the Lebanese judiciary upon its request, which judicial sources say has been passed on verbally to the resistance”. Hizballah apparently is refusing to give anything to the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, or to its Prosecutor [Daniel Bellemare], because they “lack credibility”. And Hizballah leader Nasrallah has reportedly called the UN Tribunal operation an “Israeli project”.
Javendanfar writes in his analysis that “Mohammad Raad, a Hezbollah member of the Lebanese parliament, while addressing a group of supporters, [recently] stated that the Lebanese government is facing a new threat, and that the Rafiq Hariri murder trial has been politicized to serve Israel’s interests”.
According to Javendanfar, this means that “any accusation against Hezbollah will be interpreted as an act of treason in Israel’s favor”.
However, he writes, even more that the 3 August firefight, “there is another development that showed the seriousness of the impending conflict, and that is the warning given by Hezbollah that the deal brokered two years ago in Doha is about to collapse – a deal made after Hezbollah’s military attack against Sunni forces left 90 dead. Fearing that a civil war could break out, the different Sunni, Christian and Shiite factions traveled to the Qatari capital to try and work out a deal in order to return calm to Lebanon. They finally succeeded in reaching a compromise, which included veto power for Hezbollah in the Lebanese cabinet … The question that must be asked then in this: If Hezbollah is interested in attacking Israel, why is it warning that the Doha agreement is about to collapse? Attacking Israel has nothing to do with that. Hezbollah could get involved in a military confrontation with Israel without warning that the Doha agreement is about to collapse. In fact, even if Israel were its only target, Hezbollah would do everything to strengthen the Doha deal so that it could reap the benefits of domestic support while waging war on Israel. There is, however, one other possibility: the Shiite organization could be about to launch a domestic power grab. This could be bloody, involving massive armed confrontation, or it could be bloodless; perhaps, for instance, involving some sort of agreement made with opposing factions. Hezbollah has the military capability to do this, as it’s the only militia in Lebanon”.
In 2008, Hizballah did confront the Lebanese government, and at least 100 people were killed in clashes that threatened the stability and unity of Lebanon. That crisis was resolved by an arrangement by which Hizballah was handed a number of cabinet portfolios, and it became formally a part of the Lebanese government.
This deal, which brought Hizballah into the government, made it then possible to have an fuller deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south of the country, which both Israel and most of the rest of the world have always said they wanted. It is quite likely that this deal is also why Hizballah said they did not intervene in the recent firefight — and suggested they would do so only if asked by the Lebanese Army.
As for Israel, Javendanfar suggests that the looming end of the ten-month settlement freeze is yet one more reason why Israel should want to avoid a conflict with Hizballah now: “The bad news … is that it is very ill equipped to defend itself diplomatically. Its tarnished image after falling out with the Obama administration, Turkey and the international community over the Gaza flotilla affair means that it will find an increasingly smaller audience that’s willing to listen to its concerns, as legitimate as they may be. The good news for Hezbollah is that if Israel ends the settlement freeze, then Israel’s pool of friends in the international community is going to shrink even more, and fast. The question then becomes: Is Hezbollah willing to wait until Sept. 25, the date of the end of the current freeze, to find out?”
Javendanfar’s analysis, which is aimed primarily at Israeli decision-makers, and his concern about a possible looming war, can be read in full here.
According to an Agence France Press report just published in the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, “a high-ranking government official, who requested his name be withheld, told AFP on Tuesday that he did not expect Hizbullah to take any drastic measures. ‘The indictment will be issued by an international body so even withdrawing from the government would be a very artificial, contrived step that would cause problems here in Lebanon without presenting any corroboration of the evidence presented yesterday’, the official said. ‘Turning the table on the Lebanese government would seem to me taking Lebanon hostage and saying ‘I’m threatening the international community that my own country will be paying the price’, he added. ‘I don’t expect that’.” This AFP story can be read in full in The Daily Star, here.