There is serious potential for escalation

A group of Lebanese soldiers came under attack from Israel on Monday night while they were fortifying their military posts near the village of Duheira, west of Tyre.  According to the Lebanese army, an Israeli patrol shot over the heads of the Lebanese soldiers, and there were no casualties. Both the LAF and IDF went on alert along the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel, while the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) tried to contain the situation.

The late-night incident was one of several small disputes that went down over the Israeli-Lebanese border since three Lebanese soldiers, a journalist and a high-ranking Israeli officer were killed on August 3 in an exchange of fire near the southern village of Adaisseh over the Israeli army’s attempt to trim bushes along the border fence. The so-called Adaisseh incident did not escalate, and both the LAF and the IDF agreed to hold fire and gather for a tripartite meeting with UNIFIL, where they decided to properly delineate the Blue Line.

But the situation along the border is far from calm. Since last month’s skirmishes, the Lebanese army and the IDF went on alert several times, while Israeli troops continued cutting trees along the border line. UNIFIL last week stopped the work of an Israeli bulldozer that had entered Lebanese territory to dig a water duct, prompting the LAF to go on alert. The Israeli Air Force also intensified its mock raids over South Lebanon this week on the pretense of an alleged arms depot explosion on the outskirts of Tyre and of political instability in Beirut.

Analysts fear that such incidents can lead to tensions and possibly violence. While both Hezbollah and Israel have good reasons not to start a new war, a conflict might also emerge from these small but repeated border incidents.

“There is serious potential for escalation, even from small incidents or accidents. Forces on both sides of the border seem to be at a high state of readiness,” said Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “August 3, 2010 showed how such a process could begin and how fast it could escalate, even though in that case the process was brought under control,” he told NOW Lebanon.

White recently published a report analyzing what a new war between Israel and Hezbollah would look like. In the report he said the conflict would not only devastate Lebanon – as Israel would use all its military power to eliminate Hezbollah’s weapons and ground forces in South Lebanon, and destroy its infrastructure across the country – but that it would also involve Syria and Iran, as Israel would strike the Party of God’s allies.  White told NOW Lebanon that he’s not offering a prediction of when the war will start, but that he believes it’s just a matter of time.

“My sense is that war is coming; although when and under what starting conditions is uncertain,” he said. “To me it seems like the path to World War I. Deterrence is under pressure from the buildup of forces, and there is little that can be done to stop this.”

As Lebanese make more frequent references to the “upcoming big war,” everyone’s eyes are on UNIFIL, which bears the responsibility of keeping the peace. UNIFIL has been watching the Blue Line closely since the Adaisseh clashes and sent a preliminary report to the UN secretary general at the end of August, after both the LAF and IDF gave testimony. The content of the report is likely to remain confidential, in accordance with UN protocol.

UNIFIL is not in a position to confirm the Israeli mock raids reported by the Lebanese army or to speak on the cross-border incidents in line with its policy on neutrality.  UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh did tell NOW Lebanon, however, that “if there is any air violation, UNIFIL protests them, and they should stop because it is a violation of [UN Security Council Resolution 1701]. That is all I can tell you.”

According to White, both Israel and Hezbollah are ready for a war. “Lebanon will be the battleground with all the consequences that entails. I do not believe the IDF will attack targets in Lebanon willy-nilly, but Lebanese government assets involved in supporting Hezbollah will likely be struck,” he said.

Despite repeated attempts to reach them, Hezbollah representatives were not available for comment as of press time. However, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said in several of his recent speeches that the Party of God is ready to fight back should Israel attack Lebanon.


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