On Sunday, a soldier from the Lebanese Army murdered St.-Sgt.-Maj. Shlomi Cohen,
31, of Afula. Two of about ten bullets fired from the Lebanese side of the
border hit Cohen in the chest and neck and he lost control of the civilian
vehicle he was driving on the Israeli side of the border near a naval base next
to Rosh Hanikra.
In August, near the same spot, a bomb blew up an army
jeep, injuring four soldiers. And in 2010, Lebanese snipers shot at Israeli
soldiers on the border, killing one and injuring another. Relatively speaking,
however, since the second Lebanon war in 2006, the border has remained fairly
The tragic killing of Cohen, father of a baby girl, does not
appear to be a sign of an escalation of tensions.
Hezbollah, bogged down
as it is in Syria fighting alongside Bashar Assad’s troops against rebel forces,
clearly has no interest in opening a front with Israel. And Israel has no
interest in escalation either. The IDF has restricted itself to a limited
military retaliation, launched a few hours after the unprovoked attack, that
reportedly resulted in the injury of two Lebanese soldiers. Further retaliatory
operations are unlikely, since attacks staged long after the initial shooting
would be interpreted as Israeli aggression.
In parallel, the United
Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will now attempt to calm down
tensions and prevent a potentially volatile situation from
High-ranking IDF officers met with their Lebanese
counterparts under UN mediation.
Under a mandate from UN Security Council
Resolution 1701, passed in 2006, the UN forces are supposed to prevent the
deployment of Hezbollah forces in Southern Lebanon while strengthening the
Lebanese Armed Forces. Although UNIFIL has succeeded in preventing it from
maintaining an overt presence in the area, Hezbollah has covert troops operating
in the area and has stockpiled over a hundred thousand rockets.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, a researcher at the Institute for National
Security Studies and author of Israel and South Lebanon: In the Absence of a
Peace Treaty with Syria pointed out, Sunday’s shooting underlines another
worrying development: A large number of young Shi’ite men, many of whom identify
with Hezbollah’s ideology, are inducted into the Lebanese Armed Forces under
Lebanon’s policy of mandatory military service. And Shi’ites, who make up the
single largest religious group in Lebanon, are also the fasting growing, and may
become a majority there someday. The Lebanese army soldier responsible for
Cohen’s death, who apparently acted alone, was reportedly a
Still, the demographic balance in Lebanon has been upset by the
huge influx of mostly Sunni Syrian refugees.
According to official
estimates, around 800,000 refugees have made their way to Lebanon, over 90
percent of whom are Sunni. Lebanese officials say the number is closer to 1.2
million, since many refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria end up staying with
family or in informal arrangements in Lebanon. There is little prospect that any
of these newcomers, who make up roughly a quarter of Lebanon’s 4.4 million
population, will be returning soon.
Similarly to the Palestinians who
arrived in Lebanon in 1948 and 1967, these Syrians could easily reignite the
sort of civil war that tore Lebanon apart between 1975 and 1990. This time the
conflict would be between Hezbollah and other forces inside Lebanon that support
Assad and the Sunnis, including the newly-arrived refugees who are rabidly
opposed to the Assad regime. The assassination at the beginning of December in
Beirut of Hassan al-Laqqis, a commander of Hezbollah troops fighting in Syria’s
civil war, apparently by a previously unknown Sunni terrorist organization,
should be seen as part of this sectarian conflict.
One thing Sunnis and
Shi’ites have in common is a hatred of Israel.
Quiet on the South
Lebanese borders is fragile. Israel must remain vigilant, preparing for the
worst case scenario while avoiding unnecessary escalation.
killing is a reminder that our region is in upheaval and the relative lull that
has characterized our border with Lebanon since 2006 must not be taken for
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