Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
Israeli soldiers stand guard in Rosh Hanikra, Israel, near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on Monday, December 16, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
Twenty-four hours after a Lebanese Army soldier shot dead IDF Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen in a cross-border attack near Rosh Hanikra, there were still no indications that the gunman was acting on behalf of any organization or entity. Put another way: Despite the inclination to assume that Hezbollah was behind the attack, it may not have been. Not this time.
The initial findings of the IDF investigation into the attack suggest that the gunman decided on his own to fire on Israeli troops. He was patrolling along the border with five or six colleagues, and ran to the fence and opened fire at the vehicle in which Cohen was traveling.
The Lebanese Army, and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, sought to clarify Monday that the shooting was unacceptable. From first thing Monday morning, Lebanese officials were meeting with their Israeli counterparts, and with UNIFIL, in an effort to get to the bottom of what had happened.
Mikati met with the Lebanese Army top brass and told Derek Plumbly, the UN’s special representative in Lebanon, that this was an attack carried out by lone assailant, acting on his own. Mikati also reportedly expressed the hope that calm would return to the area.
Shlomi Cohen, 31, an IDF soldier who was killed by a rogue Lebanese soldier in a cross-border shooting, Sunday, December 15, 2013 (photo credit: Facebook)
Israel, for its part, did not point the finger of blame at Hezbollah but, rather, conveyed harsh messages to the Beirut government and to the Lebanese Army that it held them responsible.
For all the efforts on both sides of the border, however, it is not clear how long relative calm can prevail. Hard though it may be to believe, Hezbollah is not the most extreme force operating in the area; increasingly, radical Sunni groups are trying to get to the border fence. Earlier on Sunday, armed gunmen, apparently Sunni extremists, attacked a Lebanese Army position near Tyre and — as at the Golan Heights border — these extremists will likely seek to attack Israeli targets as well.
At the same time, the Lebanese Army is going through a process of radicalization and moving closer to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is deeply involved in making appointments to senior Lebanese Army positions, and has veto power over appointments of commanders in the various sectors where the army is deployed. It is thus gradually impacting the nature and orientation of the Lebanese Army.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/World Economic Forum)
In theory, the Lebanese Army and its commanders have free access to the Lebanese side of the border, and Hezbollah does not. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah forces are not allowed south of the Litani River. Naturally, Hezbollah is flouting that resolution, and has established rocket launch sites across southern Lebanon, and presumably makes effective use, too, of the predominantly Shiite Lebanese Army troops.
For the time being, Hezbollah is not interested in escalating hostilities on the Lebanon border — not so long as it is deeply involved in fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria. But there can be little doubt that it is preparing for the next round of hostilities against Israel from Lebanon, and is gathering intelligence on Israeli army activity courtesy of soldiers in the Lebanese Army.
Thus while Sunday’s fatal attack may have been the work of a single soldier, and may not have been orchestrated, it most certainly did not happen in isolation.