bomb blast

Over the past two weeks, the Israeli army has been on high alert, waiting for a revenge attack by the Iranian-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement after it reportedly unwittingly killed one of its members in Syria.

Security experts in Israel believe that following Tuesday’s devastating blast in Beirut, that attack may never come – or will at least be delayed.

The incident in question occurred during an airstrike outside the Syrian capital of Damascus that destroyed an arms depot.

Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah vowed revenge and there have since been two attempted attacks along the border, which Israeli commentators believe Hezbollah was behind.

Amos Yadlin, executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, notes that Nasrallah is facing mounting criticism.

“There are already a lot of voices in Lebanon that blame Hezbollah for the financial difficulties. There are new sanctions on Lebanon because of Hezbollah. The banking system is collapsing because of Hezbollah.

And every Lebanese knows that Hezbollah is the strongest military power in Lebanon and also with a lot of political influence,” Yadlin said this week.

Hezbollah, labelled a terrorist organization by several countries, including the US and Germany, is part of the Lebanese government.

“And now why would they need another dimension of destruction that will come from Nasrallah attacking Israel?” Yadlin said. “So I think he (Nasrallah) will find a ladder to go down from the tree.”

Dr Ely Karmon, of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in central Israel, echoes this, but notes that the Israeli army is still on high alert.

Indeed, the army said Thursday that it will maintain the operational deployment in the North.

“In my personal opinion Hezbollah cannot do anything now as it has only angered more parts of the population that are already angry, because it’s not clear who the ammonium was belonging to and if they were or weren’t involved,” Karmon told dpa.

The blast, believed to be caused by the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port, has killed at least 149 people and injured some 5,000.

Karmon said that Israel’s offers of aid to Lebanon “plays against Hezbollah’s narrative of Israel [as the enemy].”

Israel and Lebanon are technically at war. Lebanese officials said they would not accept aid from an enemy, but Israel was working to transfer aid via third parties.

Makarem Rabah, analyst and history teacher at the American University of Beirut, told dpa Hezbollah’s behaviour “has nothing to do with the Lebanese local scene.”

They execute the orders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their drive for expansion, he said, “and this means more problems for Lebanon and its people in the future.”

Sarit Zehavi, the founder of Israel’s research and education centre Alma in northern Israel, warns: “Hezbollah never forgets.”

She does, however, believe tensions are likely to de-escalate for at least the coming month or two while Hezbollah recovers from any damages it suffered in the blast and invests itself in helping the Lebanese people.
She points out that an ebb and flow of tensions at the border is the norm.

According to the Israeli army, Hezbollah has some 120,000 missiles. It has repeatedly launched attacks from Lebanon against Israel.

Israel regularly strikes Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria and Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in June that Israel had breached his country’s land, sea and air space over 1,000 times this year.

Dr Sadek Nabulsi, analyst and teacher of political science at the Lebanese University, who is close to Hezbollah, accused Israel of taking advantage of events such as Tuesday’s blast “to increase its pressure and deliberately exacerbate any process of recovery and stability.”

“Unless it receives gains and benefits that break the conflict equation between it and Hezbollah, Israel will continue to exercise its violations and geopolitical whims,” he charged, opining that Israel seeks “the complete fragmentation of Lebanon.”

Zehavi, meanwhile, says many researchers at her institute believe Hezbollah will take advantage of the situation by using aid from Iran and money coming into Lebanon now to gain more control over the country. The West, she said, should monitor this.

She suggested that Iran might try to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah among the humanitarian aid.

But both Karmon and Zehavi expressed optimism that Israel-Lebanon relations could improve if changes are made within the Lebanese government to reduce Hezbollah’s power.

“We could see a new kind of alliance inside Lebanon which will perhaps improve the atmosphere between Israel and Lebanon and especially if pressure on Hezbollah works to diminish their influence and dismantle their huge arsenal – but this is a process that is just beginning,” says Karmon.

“If there is hope for Lebanon, there is hope for peace between Lebanon and Israel,” she says. Hezbollah, she believes, is the obstacle standing in the way.

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