Hezbollah a likely culprit in cross-border attack

Shiite group has an appetite for revenge, and may be allocating more resources to strike at Israeli targets

Avi Issacharoff

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.

IDF soldiers carry a comrade injured in a blast on the Golan Heights to a waiting helicopter on March 18, 2014 (photo credit:AFP/Jalaa Marey)
IDF soldiers carry a comrade injured in a blast on the Golan Heights to a waiting helicopter on March 18, 2014 (photo credit:AFP/Jalaa Marey)

On Tuesday afternoon a bomb blast on the Golan Heights left four IDF soldiers wounded. A few hours later, it’s still difficult to point a finger at a culprit with any degree of certainty. One can conclude, however, that after two and a half weeks in which four similar incidents have taken place, an invisible hand seems to be attempting to steer the region toward escalation, without leaving any fingerprints.

The first suspect is, naturally, Hezbollah. Though the Syrian Golan Heights are not the Lebanese Shiite group’s expected launching ground for attacks on Israel, the organization is currently stationed at almost every point throughout Syria.

Hezbollah has several scores to settle with Israel. The IAF’s reported strike on a weapons convoy in the Bekaa Valley and the assassination of Hassan al-Laqis left the Lebanese group with an appetite for revenge. It also has the ability to carry out attacks of the sort seen Tuesday. Therefore, the likelihood that Hezbollah or one of its affiliates are the ones trying to strike Israeli targets along the border fence is quite high.

But there are other suspects, as well. In a similar incident two weeks ago, the IDF spotted several operatives preparing a bomb near the border. At first blush, one could think they were jihad activists, who also have an interest in escalation. After all, large swaths of the Syrian Golan Heights are controlled by rebel forces, some of whom identify with radical Sunni ideology. But those men, although they weren’t dressed in Syrian army fatigues, were operating in a region that is controlled by the Syrian military. In their view, Hezbollah and Syria have been suffering blows at the hands of the IDF for far too long. It is possible that the Syrian leadership, along with Hezbollah, is trying to signal to Israel that there is a price to pay if it continues to harm Syrian interests.

Several months ago, following another reported Israeli bombing in Syria, President Bashar Assad stated that the Golan Heights would become a front for the “resistance.” It appears that he is trying to hold true to his word in a manner that won’t force Israel to enter the fray — neither against Hezbollah nor directly against his regime.

Lebanese pro-Syrian Popular Committees fighters near the northeastern Lebanese town of al-Qasr, Lebanon.(photo credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese pro-Syrian Popular Committees fighters near the northeastern Lebanese town of al-Qasr, Lebanon.(photo credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

For now, the alliance between Hezbollah and Assad is holding strong. The Shiite organization is turning out to be one of the Syrian regime’s greatest and most effective military assets. A Hezbollah victory provided Assad with control of Qusair, bringing about a change in momentum that in turn helped advance the conquest of the key city of Yabroud.

Yabroud was a major stronghold for the most extremist of Islamist rebels, right near the border with Lebanon. Control of the city gave radical Sunni organizations access to the Syria-Lebanon border crossing, making it easy for Sunni suicide bombers to carry out attacks on Shiite targets in Lebanon.

The achievements of the Syrian army and Hezbollah in the city may not bring about a dramatic change, but they are certainly perceived as significant. This is a resounding failure for the troubled and divided opposition.

Hezbollah-affiliated media reported that the Syrian army is continuing to advance in the Yabroud region. It is conceivable that as these significant military achievements continue, Hezbollah will be able to allocate more resources in an attempt to draw blood from Israelis on the Golan Heights and the surrounding areas.

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