'Hizbullah unlikely to go to war'

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August 3, 2010 01:53

Ayalon: Group won't attack Israel to deflect focus from Hariri probe.

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Pe’er returns shot in Dubai.

ayalon 311. (photo credit:ASSOCIATED PRESS)

While it is “absolutely not inconceivable” that Hizbullah will try to provoke Israel in order to divert attention from the likelihood that it will be indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post this week that such a scenario was unlikely.

Ayalon said that while in the past, “Hizbullah, Hamas and others” have used Israel as a means of diverting attention from domestic matters, “I don’t think this will be the case this time around.”

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First of all, he said, Israel has made clear on more than one occasion and through a number of different channels that it would hold Lebanon responsible for any attacks or provocations carried out from Lebanese territory.

Second, Ayalon said, Hizbullah represents Iran’s interests – rather than Lebanon’s – “and I’m not sure it is in Iran’s interest at this time to use the Hizbullah card” because the sanctions imposed on Teheran over the past few weeks have started to bite hard.

“I believe that Iran is on the verge of a collapse economically and socially,” Ayalon said. As a result, he added, Iran’s interest was to “change the situation,” something that a Hizbullah-provoked war in the North would not serve.

Other officials have said over the last few months that Iran viewed Hizbullah as a weapon to be used against Israel if Jerusalem decided to attack Iran, and that Teheran would not want to risk a local Israel-Hizbullah confrontation now for fear that this could severely weaken the Lebanese group and remove it as an effective weapon in Iran’s arsenal.

Ayalon pointed out that since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, there has been a sense among many in Lebanon that Hizbullah and Lebanon’s interests don’t coincide. A Hizbullah provocation that could conceivably bring down Israel’s wrath on Lebanon would likely underscore that conflict of interest – something Hizbullah, according to this assessment, is keen on avoiding. Hizbullah does not want to do anything at this point that would increase popular resentment against it inside Lebanon.

While the assessment in Jerusalem is that Hizbullah will not use the Hariri episode now as cover to attack Israel, messages have been sent in recent days to Syria, Lebanon and the Arab League saying that Israel views the Hariri inquiry episode as an internal Lebanese matter and has no intention of interfering. However, the messages have also said that if attacked, Israel would respond in a “decisive way.”

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