Analysis: Assassinating Ashkenazi would likely have led to war

Ramifications of an IDF chief of staff's assassination unimaginable.

Salman Harab hizbullah 248 88 (photo credit: Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency))
Salman Harab hizbullah 248 88
(photo credit: Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency))
Hizbullah's decision to target IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was a natural response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008, for which the group blames Israel. Mughniyeh was the military commander of all Hizbullah forces, both in Lebanon and overseas. Ashkenazi is the Israeli equivalent. The ramifications, though, of an IDF chief of staff's assassination are almost unimaginable. In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon three days after an assassination attempt on Shlomo Agrov, the ambassador in London. In 2006, the Second Lebanon War erupted following the abduction of two Israeli reservists - Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Had Ashkenazi been assassinated, or had an attempt been made to do so, the results would likely have been the same. The situation in the North three years after the Second Lebanon War is a seeming contradiction. On the one hand, the northern border has never been so quiet. On the other hand, Hizbullah has rebuilt most of its capabilities and is today believed to be stronger than before the war with more, and longer-range missiles. In a recent interview for a Kuwaiti newspaper, President Shimon Peres said that Hizbullah now had 80,000 weapons that could be used against Israel. The common assessment, though, is that neither Israel nor Hizbullah is interested in another round at the moment. Hizbullah is still in talks with Lebanese prime minister-designate Sa'ad Hariri regarding the establishment of a national unity government, which it would like to be a part of. Israel, focused more on the Iranian nuclear threat and renewing the Palestinian track, is also not interested in a war. The Mughniyeh factor - as it is called in the IDF's Northern Command - could change that calculation. The assassination of a senior Israeli official such as Ashkenazi, or any other member of the General Staff, would likely leave Israel with no choice but to respond. The assessment in Israel is that while Hizbullah was gathering intelligence on senior officials here, the preference in the Shi'ite guerrilla group was to carry out an attack against an Israeli target overseas. Likely locations are South America and Africa, where Hizbullah is believed to already have strong infrastructure that relies on local Shi'ite communities. For this reason, the National Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Bureau warned Israelis earlier this month to immediately leave the Sinai Peninsula. There is another catalyst that could also lead to a new conflict with Hizbullah: the transfer of advanced weaponry from Syria - anti-aircraft systems and possibly long-range rockets - to Hizbullah.