Analysis: Israel needs to be concerned

While Hizbullah's move means political instability in Beirut in the immediate term, it doesn't mean the IDF can rest easy.

Nasrallah on Screen 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Nasrallah on Screen 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hizbullah’s decision to topple the Lebanese government was exactly what OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot expected would happen with the completion of the UN probe into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
While such a move means political instability in Beirut in the immediate term, this does not mean that Eizenkot can rest easy, with the IDF concerned that political deadlock in Lebanon could lead to violence along the border with Israel.
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In recent weeks, senior intelligence officers voiced minimal concern over the possibility that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, fearing the repercussions of Hizbullah being blamed for the Hariri assassination, would decide to attack Israel to divert attention from the tribunal.
It is no secret that Hizbullah has superior military capabilities and better-trained soldiers than the Lebanese Armed Forces, which means that if it wants, Hizbullah could take over all of Lebanon, likely within a matter of days. If it decides to take to the streets and attempt a coup, a civil war would erupt that could potentially lead to a war with Israel as well.
While some government intelligence analysts believe that taking over Lebanon is Nasrallah’s ultimate objective, it is not clear that he is ready for such a move. Today, he gets to enjoy both worlds – be part of the political system and at the same time build up an illegal militia that is stronger than the country’s own military.
It is important to understand why Nasrallah is so concerned with the findings of the Hague-based tribunal: If Hizbullah is found guilty, as expected, of assassinating Hariri it would contradict the image it has tried to create over the years as being the defender of Lebanon. If it was defending Lebanon, why did it assassinate the country’s former prime minister? The problem for Hizbullah is that toppling the Lebanese government does not ensure that this “defender” image will be retained. What it is trying to do instead is force the current prime minister Saad Hariri to denounce the tribunal’s findings and clear Hizbullah’s name.
The other problem is that the tribunal’s expected announcement will come at a time when Hizbullah-Iranian relations are at a new low. Iran has cut the annual budget it provides Hizbullah by over 40 percent and tensions are running high between the top Hizbullah leadership and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer who was appointed earlier this year to oversee Hizbullah operations on behalf of the Islamic Republic.
Israel will, in the meantime, continue watching Lebanon from afar, but this time its eyes will not just be on the weapons shipments that cross from Syria into the Bekaa Valley. It will also be keeping close tabs on Beirut, where political chaos now reigns.