Lebanese leaders referred to Israeli “aggression" - a “violation of Lebanese sovereignty” in which an Israeli patrol crossed into Lebanon to trim trees despite orders from UN peacekeepers to stop.
Israeli leaders described it as an “ambush” - a “gross violation”, “murderous attack” and “violent provocation” initiated in response to “routine maintenance duties” and “with no provocation from our territory.”
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The rhetoric on both sides of the ‘blue line’ separating Lebanon and Israel is alive and wild, and while the UN has confirmed that the tree in question was indeed on the Israeli side of the border, and that Israel coordinated its trimming with the UN, the exact series of events that triggered the deaths of an Israeli battalion commander, three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist on Tuesday is unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon.
What is clear, however, is that in a matter of weeks Lebanon is set to face what some local analysts are predicting will be the beginnings of another Lebanese civil war and which others are predicting will be the largest political crisis since the country’s former leader was assassinated five years ago.
Either way, they agree, something smelly is about to hit the fan.
On February 14, 2005, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri and 22 others were killed by a massive 1000 kilogram TNT explosion on the Beirut seafront.
The assassination was followed by an extensive international outcry and led to massive political change in Lebanon, culminating in the withdrawal of Syrian troops after 29 years in the country.
The late Hariri opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon and supported the disarming of Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia militia more powerful than the Lebanese army. The Hariri murder has been widely blamed on elements from Hizbullah and/or Syrian intelligence.
The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in The Hague, has been investigating the assassination for years and has yet to issue any indictments. But Hizbullah’s leader, Sheikh Sayyid Hasan Na’srallah, announced last month that the tribunal was set to indict Hizbullah members in the assassination.
The Shia militia’s powerful political wing currently sits on a governing coalition along with the US-backed, Sunni-led Future Movement headed by Sa’ad Al-Hariri, son of the slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.
Lebanese analysts say the possibility of the prime minister’s governing partners being accused by an international court of assassinating his father, the country’s former leader, has created a state of a political instability and bedlam.
“I think what happened yesterday at the border is a reflection of the situation in the region,” Fadi Abi Allam, President of the Beirut-based Permanent Peace Movement told The Media Line. “We are in a state of war - both within Lebanon and outside - and everyone trying to protect themselves, so there is a real escalation of tensions.”
“The issue is not just Palestine, we are in a state of war here in Lebanon itself,” Allam continued. “The Hariri assassination is a big issue. To date, there is no solution from the international community and everybody is waiting to see what will happen and how this will affect internal politics and the situation in Israel.”
“Leaders from all over the world are all coming to Lebanon because they are all afraid of what is about to happen here,” he said. “Lebanese people do not want a civil war but who knows. Nobody can say yes or no; all I can say is there is a real risk: War could come at anytime.”
Since Na’srallah announced the probability that Hizbullah members will be indicted in the assassination, Syrian President Bashar Assad; Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah; and a number of other Arab leaders have all made 11th hour visits to Beirut to try calm the situation.
“Both Syria and Saudi Arabia are trying to keep the lid on what might
happen when Hezbollah is implicated,” Dr Eugène Richard
Sensenig-Dabbous, a political scientist at Lebanon's Notre Dame
University told The Media Line. “Things are very tense, but it seems
that nobody wants violence.”
“At the moment we have a grand coalition which includes Hizbullah,” he
said. “If Hizbullah is accused of assassinating the former prime
minister, then how can all the parties stay at the table with someone
who assassinated our leader? It’s almost impossible.”
On Tuesday, Na’srallah attempted to deflect the potential damage of a
UN indictment of Hizbullah members by openly accusing Israel of the
2005 assassination in a pre-recorded message claiming that Israeli
agents arranged the Hariri killing in order to exploit Lebanon’s
Sunni - Shia tensions. Evidence to back up such claims, Na’srallah said,
will be presented at a press conference on Monday.
Dr Sensenig-Dabbous argued that while most in Lebanon see the writing on
the wall, and realize that Hizbullah members are likely to be indicted,
they hope for the best.
“Everyone suspected from the beginning that Syria and Hizbullah knew
about it and were possibly involved, but there are taboos in this
country, and you don’t criticize Hizbullah,” he said. “Most people in
Lebanon don’t want it to be true, so I think there is a bit of wishful
The professor said that any attempt to blame the murder on rogue elements within Hizbullah would not work.
“If Na’srallah was responsible, that’s bad,” he said. “But if Na’srallah
was not responsible that’s even worse, because it means that the leader
of Lebanon’s only armed faction does not have control over his own men.
It would mean that Hizbullah is not solidified and that the leadership
cannot deliver in any future peace deal between Syria, Hizbullah and
But Sari Hanafi, a political economist at the American University in Beirut, was more optimistic.
“I’m not sure what will happen,” he told The Media Line. “It will depend
on the actors involved, but both main players - the Future Movement and
Hizbullah - don’t want to escalate and want to put this issue into the
drawer. So I am rather optimistic and I don’t think this will break the
coalition - never mind cause another civil war.”
There is also the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) a known opponent of
the regime which has been responsible for a number of attacks in recent
years against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
It is likely for this reason that Iran officially denied that
Ahmadinejad was the target of an assassination attempt in order to put
on appearances that the country is united and not one is against the