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LEBANON, ISRAEL: Regional fears helping prevent war, says International Crisis Group

Border-475A new conflict between Lebanon and Israel would likely be much bloodier and more destructive, as well as broader in scope than previous confrontations, suggests a new report on the appraisal of risks along Israel’s northern border by the International Crisis Group.

Regional parties are well aware of the chilling scenario and it's their fear of a potential wider war that is the principal factor -- and also the most worrisome explanation -- to why relative calm has prevailed in the Lebanese-Israeli area since Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah fought a ferocious war in 2006, according to the think tank.

"It is exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous. Threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, are effectively deterring all sides. Today, none of the parties can soberly contemplate the prospect of a conflict that would be uncontrolled, unprecedented and unscripted," said the report, titled "Drums of War: Israel and the 'Axis of Resistance.'  "

It was released a day before Lebanese and Israeli forces clashed along the Lebanon-Israel border, resulting in the deaths of at least two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist, and an Israeli army officer.

Tuesday's clashes instilled fears of renewed violence and marked the worst incident since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

But Beirut-based ICG analyst Sahar Atrache doubts the border clash will trigger a conflict similar to that of 2006. When she spoke to Babylon & Beyond, she reiterated the report's claim that none of the parties -- Israel, Lebanon, or Hezbollah -- wants war because they all fear it would be devastating, emphasizing that Tuesday's violence is easier to hold back than a clash between Israel and Hezbollah. 

"What happened between the Israeli and Lebanese army is a scenario that can be contained more. The international community wouldn't want to see the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] fighting with the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces], and secondly, the Lebanese army doesn't have the capability to go to war with Israel," she said.

Yet Atrache also expressed concern, saying the clashes gave "a sense of escalation" between the two sides. Increasingly, war rhetoric between Hezbollah and Israel is also fueling a tense atmosphere, and on top of that, ICG warns that the political roots that led to the 2006 war remain unresolved.

"The factors for the potential conflict are there," said Atrache.

Should renewed violence break out between Israel and Lebanon, the ICG says the Israeli response would probably be swift and hard and that the Jewish state is likely not to distinguish between Hezbollah and the  Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah now is an integral part.

Israel is also wary of its failure to root out Hezbollah in the last war and will be keen to avoid a repetition of the 2006 scenario. It might look to instead strike neighboring Syria in a new conflict -- a country considered a main supplier of military and logistical support to Hezbollah and more vulnerable to conventional warfare than Hezbollah, whose guerrilla-style warfare tactics the Israeli army has a hard time suppressing.

For its part, Hezbollah has vowed to strike back for any Israeli attacks on civilian targets and has beefed up its weapons arsenal, which is of concern to Israel.

Meanwhile, the so-called “axis of resistance” -- Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah -- has kept busy intensifying its security ties, making the involvement by one in the event of attack against another a possibility and setting the scene for a future conflict that could come to involve several actors in the region.

This doesn't necessarily mean that war is brewing. Other restraint mechanisms, aside from fear, are in place, deterring parties from provoking a new conflict, says the ICG.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, increased its forces in south Lebanon significantly after the 2006 war, and its presence serves the function of a protective bulwark between Israel and Hezbollah to help maintain the status quo.

Hezbollah’s enhanced political status in Lebanon also serves as an "inhibiting factor," deterring it from provoking initiatives that could jeopardize those gains. Although Israel has expressed serious concern over Hezbollah's military growth, it has "displayed restraint," says the ICG, adding that President Obama is not keen on the prospect of war in his efforts to restore American credibility in the Middle East. 

Atrache describes the current situation in the Lebanese-Israeli area as "precarious," saying it is locked in a state of paralysis. The key to unlocking it -- and the most durable solution, according to the think tank --  is the resuming and concluding of successful peace talks between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon.

Short of such an initiative, the group calls for more international efforts to ameliorate communications among the various parties, diminish tensions and avoid costly mistakes. All parties are also urged to undertake measures to strengthen security.

The world should meanwhile cross its fingers that fear of a devastating conflict will continue to be reason enough for the parties to keep calm and not set one off, concluded the ICG.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Lebanese soldiers look across the border. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Comments () | Archives (6)

Defensible Borders to Secure Israel’s Future -

Rather than any international peacekeeping mission, the best course is bilateral security arrangements.  The Israeli experience with an international presence has been poor. UNIFIL in Lebanon has not lived up to Israeli expectations in preventing the re-armament of Hizbullah after the 2006 Second Lebanon War.  For more on defensible borders to secure Israel's future, see this piece by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan -  and


Israek is a lot more powerful than you think. they could finish off the entire middle east 5 times over. They jsut hold back due to the usa Interestes. If pushed in a corner they would finish.

Of course Stefano bets it will be Israel sabre rattling. After all, it was the LAF who shot rocket propelled grenades into Israeli territory killing one Israeli soldier and gravely injuring the other. Now, I'm no idiotologist, but that sure sounds as if Israel is cruising for a bruising. Right, Stefano?

"Atrache describes the current situation in the Lebanese-Israeli area as "precarious," saying it is locked in a state of paralysis. The key to unlocking it -- and the most durable solution, according to the think tank -- is the resuming and concluding of successful peace talks between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon."

Actually not. The key to defusing the situation lies in the USA and Europe. If they are willing to press that Hebollah disarm (if not outright disband them ) and that Lebanon abide by UNSCR 1701, then perhaps there would be some hope. But Europe and the USA are not about to denounce Lebanon for allowing Hizbollah to rearm and they are not going to condemn Lebanon for the latest antics by the LAF. That being the case, war is just a matter of time.

Such a war would surely be destructive and diastrous for both sides, although it is worth noting that most Lebanese citizens do not have bomb shelters,and the LAF no anti missle missles and not much of an air force or navy. In 2006 Israel suffered weeks of missles, but today, it is hard to find evidece of the damage. Is it like that in Lebanon too? Some how I have my doubts.

Let's hope there is not another costly war. But virtually all sources suggest that Israel's military and right-wing have been looking for another war against Lebanon and Hezbollah, if not Syria, since the end of the last war. Lebanon does not want another war for various obvious reasons. Hezbollah only says it is ready and it will win. Syria has given indication that this time, it will not sit on the sideline, primarily because Israel will not let it do so anyway. Let us see who continues to do the provocations and saber-rattling. I bet it will be Israel. Israel is the one that needs to change the military and PR calculus.

Unfortunately because of lack of peace, fear have to be a motivation for thinking twice about another war, unlike previou wars which were fought in only one side of border, this time Lebanon and Israel both will lose dearly as far as their infrastructure and economies goes no matter who comes out victor at the end of war, both can reach deep with devastating effects in to their adversaries homeland!


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