New attacks show blurring of Lebanese, Syrian fronts

Hezbollah, now ruling Lebanon, doesn’t want large-scale conflict with Israel, but does want to deter IDF from ‘crossing red lines’

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.

A Syrian watches an interview of Hassan Nasrallah screened on Syria's official television channel Al-Ikhbariya on April 6, 2015 in Damascus. (AFP/STR)
A Syrian watches an interview of Hassan Nasrallah screened on Syria's official television channel Al-Ikhbariya on April 6, 2015 in Damascus. (AFP/STR)

Less than 48 hours after the Israeli army reportedly attacked targets in Syria on Friday-Saturday, a Syrian cell on Sunday tried to mount a terror attack against targets inside Israeli territory.

Israel fired on the cell, which was composed of Druze gunmen, scoring a direct hit as its members attempted to plant a large explosive device intended for future use against Israeli army troops or civilians moving near the border.

Contrary to initial reports, the cell was not part of Hezbollah, which has not been operating in this fashion recently. Except for a rocket attack on the Givati troops in late January, Hezbollah has been trying to avoid leaving fingerprints that would draw an Israeli response.

The fact is, however, that most of the Druze on the Syrian Golan Heights remain loyal to the regime of Bashar Assad and to the Hezbollah troops who fight for him. No distinction can be made any longer between the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, or between the Syrian army and the Druze on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other.

Hezbollah has been using Druze, Palestinians and, of course, Assad’s own troops to strike at Israeli targets. For more than a year, this has been one front where Hezbollah has been trying to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Syrian area in order to create a deterrent balance against Israel.

Even after the reported Israeli weekend attack on targets in the Qalamun Mountains, it seemed that Hezbollah would try to mount a limited response, not one that might lead to a large-scale, violent confrontation. Hezbollah has no interest in a conflict of that kind, but it wants to make it clear to Israel that there is a price to pay for what it views as crossing red lines.

Media outlets identified with Hezbollah, such as Al Mayadeen, claimed there was a further Israeli attack on Sunday night. But it seems that the source of those explosions in the hot Qalamun sector was the intensifying battles between Hezbollah and the Syrian army against Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front. While Hezbollah and the Syrian army had succeeded in cleansing the mountain strip of the radical Sunni troops in the past, Islamic State forces has managed to retake various territories in the area.

The latest reports in Lebanon say that Hezbollah is planning another “large-scale attack” in the Qalamun region – an area which, for Hassan Nasrallah’s people, is the doorway to Lebanon. It is the strip of territory through which arms are smuggled to Hezbollah, and is also a problematic route used by Sunni terrorists who wish to act against Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is why the mountain ridge is so important to Hezbollah, and the reason Hezbollah has decided to rid it of Islamic State’s presence.

Another result of the new order in the Middle East is that Lebanon, as a state, no longer exists. While it is true that the situation there is nothing like as anarchic and bloody as the situation in Syria or in Iraq, that is mainly because of Hezbollah’s troops. The place is Hezbollahland.

For months, Lebanon’s most powerful elements there have failed to appoint a new president, because of the harsh dispute between the camps. They cannot even agree on the next chief of staff of the Lebanese army.

Not that it makes any difference. Hezbollah will keep on controlling Lebanon – with or without a president.

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