Israel wary of toppling Lebanese gov't

Officer calls Syria a "negative factor" adding that "Iran is much worse."

ahmadinejad in syria (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad in syria
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has yet to hit Lebanon as hard as it could because it fears that doing so would cause the fledgling government to fall, a high-ranking military official said Saturday, adding that if necessary, it would take such action. "We didn't take the gloves off completely," the official told reporters in a briefing at the Defense Ministry's Tel Aviv headquarters. "Imagine if we hit Lebanon's four power stations. It would throw Lebanon back years. Gaza [where Israel hit the power station two weeks ago] can't go any further backwards. But Lebanon will lose billions of dollars and it will take years to reconstruct [the power stations]." So far, Israel has held back because of the fragile situation of the Lebanese government, which could collapse if the whole country is brought to a standstill after losing its electricity. Lebanon only recently threw off the yoke of a Syrian occupation, voted in an independent - but highly factional - government, and began improving its economy, which was in ruins after a long civil war. The officer said Israel needs to be "very careful that we only put enough pressure on the Lebanese government to change the situation but not enough to make it fall." Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for Hizbullah's actions and has been attacking civilian infrastructure, both to prevent its use by Hizbullah and to "send a message to the Lebanese that they will pay a high price" for Hizbullah's attacks on Israel. The high-ranking military official rejected US President George W. Bush's statement that Syria could and should influence Hizbullah to stop its rocket attacks and release the two soldiers who were kidnapped last week. "The Syrians are not the key to the solution," he said. "In 1996 they were, now they are not." He called Syria a "negative factor" adding that "Iran is much worse." Despite the missile strikes on the home and offices of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the official said that assassinating Nasrallah was not the goal. "We wanted to send him a message that he is not immune and we can get him anywhere," he said. He added that the army's goal was not to dismantle Hizbullah. "It's not realistic to dismantle Hizbullah," he said, "or to chase them out of Lebanon until there are no Hizbullah gunmen there." The goal was rather to weaken Hizbullah and to distance it from the Israeli border where it had built up an infrastructure, he said. The official said Israel was always willing to use indirect channels for solving the problem, like using foreign mediators "as we have done in the past." In the end, the military cannot solve the security problem Israel faces, he said."There is no military solution. It's always diplomatic."