Katyusha attack designed 'to keep Israel on edge'

Most observers agree that there is little that goes on in southern Lebanon without Hizbullah's knowledge.

lebanon 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
lebanon 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
While Hizbullah likely knew of the terrorists' plans to fire rockets at the North on Thursday, many experts believe that the Islamist Shi'ite group is not interested in a major escalation with Israel - at least for the time being. "It's quite possible that they knew what was going on, and turned a blind eye, knowing that it was a limited rocket attack and knowing that Israel would not respond heavily," said one Western analyst based in Beirut. "It's a warning, a means of keeping the Israelis a little bit on edge on the northern border without escalating the situation so much, so that Israel won't respond along the lines of the 2006 war," he said. Hizbullah has indicated it was not behind the rocket barrage that lightly wounded two civilians in Nahariya. Israeli military officials say they suspect Palestinian terrorists were responsible. However, most observers agree that there is little that goes on in southern Lebanon without Hizbullah's knowledge. Hizbullah, who has strongly condemned the 13-day IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, has no interest in waging war with Israel at this time, since they are still expanding their military capabilities after the 2006 war, and have a "knife-edge" parliamentary elections in June, the analyst said. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah knows that opening up a major front against Israel now would lead to an Israeli response "which won't win them any friends in Lebanon," he said. It would also open Hizbullah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon, to criticism from the public, who would charge the movement is risking the country's future stability. If, however, Hizbullah felt compelled to come to the aid of Hamas in Gaza, it could get involved by allowing or sanctioning the firing of lone Katyusha rockets. Or it might try to respond to Israeli actions seen as violations, such as shooting down a military jet flying over Lebanon. But such a move would be "extremely risky" for Hizbullah, as it could embroil the country in another devastating war. While it would be difficult for Hizbullah to reignite a conflict such as the Second Lebanon War, if Operation Cast Lead continues there could be a gradual escalation, said Magnus Ranstorp, a Hizbullah expert at the Swedish National Defense College. Thus, Thursday's attack is likely a signal to Israel that Hizbullah could assist the Palestinians in Gaza by heating up the northern border if it chooses to, he said. "I don't think that the decision has been made yet," he said. "This is like a test attack … They would like to signal to Israel that they are still there, and to check Israel's response, which has been immediate, and perhaps, they will step in, if there are continued rocket attacks across the border, to respond to Israeli retaliation." Other analysts suspect that the missile attack on Israel was an effort to spoil the Western-backed Egyptian-French initiative for a cease-fire in Gaza and to spoil Egypt's role as mediator. There are 10 Palestinian factions in Lebanon that reject the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its overtures toward Israel. Several of them are controlled by Syria, which has a vested interest in continuing to embarrass moderate states like Egypt, so it can become more of a political player in the region. Egypt, which has blamed Hamas for the deterioration in the Gaza Strip, has been slammed by Iran, Syria and Hizbullah for not fully opening the Rafah border crossing to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Egypt has maintained that it would only do so when the Palestinian Authority is in control of the crossing, as stipulated by a 2005 agreement.