Israel fears post-prisoner swap attack

IDF warns Hizbullah may try to delay renewal of UNIFIL mandate, says int'l force doing well in Ghajar.

hizbullah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hizbullah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fears have mounted in Israel that Hizbullah may try to carry out an attack along the northern border following the prisoner swap for abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser scheduled for later this week, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to estimates, Hizbullah may use the period following the swap as an opportunity to "change the rules" along the border and particularly inside towns located close to the border fence. Recent interviews of Hizbullah leaders, as well as articles by reporters associated with the terrorist group, have hinted that Hizbullah is planning such an attack. As a result, the IDF has raised its level of vigilance along the northern border. The army is preparing for the possibility that after two years of relative quiet since the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah will try to kidnap soldiers or even infiltrate Israel and raid a border town. Since the 2006 war, there have been two incidents of rockets being fired at the North - once in Kiryat Shmona and once in Shlomi - but both attacks were attributed to Global Jihad elements and not Hizbullah. Estimates in the defense establishment are that even following the swap, Hizbullah will still have many excuses to attack Israel, including the revenge it has said it would like to exact for the February assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh, which it has attributed to Israel. Defense officials have said in the past that if Hizbullah retaliates abroad, the violence will likely reach the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israel is also concerned that from its new position in the Lebanese government, Hizbullah may try to block the upcoming renewal of the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL's mandate is up for renewal in August, and the IDF is concerned that with veto power in the Lebanese cabinet, Hizbullah will be able to prevent it. Despite the concerns, senior IDF officers told The Jerusalem Post that while there might be delays in the mandate's renewal, Hizbullah was not likely to challenge the international community by vetoing it. "Hizbullah will ultimately not want to defy the entire international community," one officer said. Still, the feeling in the IDF is that UNIFIL is not completely implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War and calls for the disarming of Hizbullah. A senior officer told the Post last week that Hizbullah had set up positions inside Shi'ite villages in southern Lebanon where UNIFIL could not operate freely without being accompanied by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), whose soldiers would usually tip off Hizbullah before a raid. Israel is also concerned with the continued smuggling of weapons to Hizbullah and via the Syrian-Lebanese border. "The LAF is two-thirds Shi'ite and will not challenge Hizbullah," the senior officer said. But despite the disappointment with UNIFIL, the officer said Israel preferred that the force remain in Lebanon. "The IDF has not given up on UNIFIL," the officer said. "The alternative without them is much worse, but we still expect that the force does more." As an example, the officer revealed that UNIFIL recently constructed a security fence north of the split city of Ghajar, half of which sits on the Israeli side of the Blue Line international border and the other half on the Lebanese side. In addition to constructing a fence, UNIFIL regularly patrols the area and has prevented hostile elements from entering the village, the officer said. "UNIFIL does have some successes," the officer said. "We do, however, still expect that they do more."