Israel wary of possible Hizbullah attack

J'lem reiterates new Lebanese gov't responsible for any military activity emanating from its territory.

nasrallah 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
nasrallah 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel voiced concern on Monday that Hizbullah might try to regain its lost prestige in the Lebanese elections with an attack on the northern border. The Foreign Ministry reiterated that Jerusalem would hold the new Lebanese government responsible for any military activity emanating from its territory. "Israel, like all other countries in the region and the international community, is watching the political developments in Lebanon carefully," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Any government established in Beirut must make sure that Lebanon will not turn into a base for violence against Israel and Israelis. The Lebanese government must work toward strengthening stability and security in its territory, stop weapons smuggling, and implement UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701." Israel, the statement continued, "sees Lebanon as responsible for any military activity coming from its territory." Official results released Monday showed that the pro-Western coalition won 68 seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections, with 57 for Hizbullah and its allies and three for independents. The results almost mirrored the breakdown in the outgoing parliament. The results brought a degree of relief to Jerusalem, which feared that an outright victory by Hizbullah and its allies would have brought the country completely under the organization's control, giving a huge boost to Iran and Syria. "There was an election in Lebanon and the moderate camp won. This is definitely a positive sign, but the real test for the government will be in its ability to enforce order and prevent Hizbullah from continuing military actions in southern Lebanon and throughout Lebanon," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Israel continues to follow the developments there, and will determine its relations with the new Lebanese government based on these results," he said. Defense officials said following the elections that discussions on troop withdrawal from northern Ghajar - the village that straddles the northern border - might be resumed soon. There was some discussion just prior to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington last month that Israel would agree to leave the northern half of the village, something the US has been pushing for some time. A decision about the issue, however, was put off until after the elections, with Israel concerned that a Hizbullah victory would have meant that the organization would take control of the area vacated by the IDF. Immediately after the elections, two distinct schools of thought about their ramifications for Israel emerged in Jerusalem. The first was articulated by Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who told Army Radio there was concern that because of its loss in the elections, Hizbullah would initiate military action along the northern border. According to this school of thought, the election results were a major blow to Hizbullah's prestige, and showed that Hizbullah's eventual control of Lebanon was not - as many had come to believe - inevitable. As a result, the organization might want to regain its stature by showing that it remains committed to "resistance" against Israel. Another school of thought, however, is that Iran was not interested in heating up the border at this time, and would rein in Hizbullah. According to this thinking, Iran did not want to further complicate its relations with the US and the international community, which is interested in dialogue with Teheran - something Teheran can exploit to continue working on its nuclear program - by having Hizbullah spark a confrontation with Israel. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama congratulated the Lebanese people for a peaceful national election held with "courage" and a"commitment to democracy." "Once more, the people of Lebanon have demonstrated to the world their courage and the strength of their commitment to democracy," the Obama statement said, without reference to Hizbullah, which is on the US list of terrorist organizations. The setback for Hizbullah coincided with Obama's call in Cairo last week for dialogue and understanding between Moslems and the West, the US in particular. Officials in Jerusalem, however, said there was no evidence to indicate that the Obama speech had influenced the Lebanon election. AP contributed to this report. •