Israel eyes dangers, opportunities in Hizbullah takeover of Lebanon

Diplomatic sources: If Hizbullah takes over Lebanon, uses it to stage attacks on Israel, Jerusalem would not hesitate to strike Lebanon's infrastructure.

Hizbullah march 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah march 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
If Hizbullah takes over Lebanon and uses it to stage attacks on Israel, Jerusalem would have no compunction about striking at Lebanon's infrastructure, something it was hesitant to do during the Second Lebanon War for fear of toppling the democratic government in Beirut, diplomatic sources said Sunday. According to the officials, while Hizbullah control of Lebanon would pose enormous challenges for Israel, it would provide opportunities for the IDF in that infrastructure targets considered out of bounds while Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora was in control would suddenly be fair play if Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah were making the decisions. This assessment came as the cabinet heard security briefings on the rapidly changing situation in Lebanon, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel was "naturally monitoring events there." Vice Premier Haim Ramon told the ministers that "Lebanon must be treated as a Hizbullah state. Everything that happens there is the responsibility of Hizbullah. The country is controlled by this terrorist organization, and its government has become irrelevant." The idea of an independent government apart from Hizbullah in Lebanon was "entirely fictitious," Ramon said. OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin briefed the cabinet ministers on the recent clashes in Lebanon and said that Israel must prepare for a new situation there. Although Israel must be realistic about the new situation, he said, "there is no need for hysteria." The fact that Hizbullah was using its arms inside Lebanon, and not "to defend Lebanon against Israel" - its historic excuse for maintaining arms - showed that it felt its position threatened, Yadlin said. Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen called for an urgent appeal to the UN to renew discussions on Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the Second Lebanon War. Diplomatic sources, however, said Israel was not involved in diplomacy behind the scenes to convene a Security Council debate on the issue. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said that "Hizbullah continues to be in control of Lebanon, without carrying the responsibility of managing the country." "[They] continue to create problems for Israel, like during the Second Lebanon War, and this prevents us from fighting terrorism," he said. Defense officials, meanwhile, expressed concern Sunday that the growing instability in Lebanon would lead to a dissolution of the power of the UNIFIL peacekeepers, as well as pave the way for Hizbullah to obtain control of at least a third in the Lebanese cabinet, granting it the power to veto major government decisions. Israel is concerned that the March 14 group, led by Saad Hariri - son of assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri - could lose control of the government to Hizbullah. The Shi'ite group could then shoot down government initiatives, including the upcoming renewal of UNIFIL's mandate to operate in southern Lebanon. While the IDF - particularly the Northern Command and Military Intelligence - is closely following the events in Lebanon, officials said there was not an immediate concern that the unrest there would include attacks against Israel. The bigger concern was long-term, they said, and involved the possibility that if Hizbullah violently took over the country, Israel would in essence share a border with Iran. One defense official said the violence in Lebanon was proof that Security Council Resolution 1701 had failed in preventing Hizbullah's military buildup and rehabilitation following the Second Lebanon War. "Hizbullah's demonstration of its strength over the past few days shows that 1701 was never fully enforced the way it was supposed to be," said the official, who expressed concern that the political instability and violence in Lebanon would lead European countries to reconsider their participation in the UN peacekeeping mission there.