The northern front

Hezbollah is plainly busy elsewhere as is Assad’s chief military mainstay against the rebels.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The national spotlight is now firmly focused on the south, where seemingly containable trickles of shelling and rocketing were tolerated over ever-increasing periods until Israel had lost its deterrence, while Hamas armed itself to the teeth.
We cannot be blamed for being fixated on the south, but it would be wise not to ignore worrying omens from the north. What we see on the Lebanese and Syrian borders is all too distressingly reminiscent of what we put up with in the south for years, time after time assuming we could control the occasional attack.
Israeli forbearance made the full-blown conflict inevitable. It was a matter of a chance incident to trigger a fierce and prolonged showdown.
This scenario is beginning to replicate itself at the opposite end of the country where we face far better- equipped, better trained and better disciplined enemies. At erratic intervals shells are lobbed into Israel from Lebanon and Syria and in both cases Israel has opted for patience, mostly because it is not clear who is attacking us.
The speculation is that it is not Hezbollah and not the forces under the sway of Damascus despot Bashar Assad. That leaves either the jihadist fanatics overrunning Syria or Palestinian irregulars in both of Israel’s northern neighbors.
Palestinians’ show of solidarity with their Gazan kin is the more plausible scenario.
The trouble is that these attacks can result in a serious mishap and thereby kick-start a round of hostilities.
This is the nature of random fire – its consequences are unpredictable. They can become the matches that ignite the tinderbox even if the bigger players do not want this to happen.
Rockets from Lebanon increasingly slam into populated areas such as Kiryat Shmona and the Western Galilee, sending civilians to bomb shelters and causing damage and a few injuries. While the escalation may appear slow, it is a potent danger. Already the IDF has been forced to return fire to Katyusha launching sites and issue stern admonitions to the governments concerned and to the remarkably inefficient and indolent UN peacekeepers.
In Syria, a central government can no longer be assumed to function, and in Lebanon, while Beirut may make signs of trying to keep the lid on, it might not be strong or competent enough to do the job.
There has been prodigious self-congratulation here in recent weeks about the deterrence supposedly established vis-à-vis Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, scathingly criticized though its conduct was at the time. But this revised assessment may not hold water.
More than Hezbollah is filled with awe at Israeli prowess, it is plainly busy elsewhere. Hezbollah is Assad’s chief military mainstay against the rebels.
Hezbollah thus incurs significant casualties but at the same time enormously enlarges its weaponry stockpiles and its fighters gain invaluable experience on the battlefield.
True, Hezbollah is a better organized enemy than Hamas, with greater restraint and a tighter rein on its forces. But in the past we have seen Hezbollah abandon coolheaded calculation in an instant.
By our own rational calculations this should not happen, but it can never be stressed too often that our logic does not govern our many adversaries in the region.
Unlikely as we judge it, we should not rule out circumstances wherein Hezbollah, in concert with Assad or without him, will find it expedient to pick a fight with Israel for its own internal political considerations.
Worse yet, we must not pooh-pooh the chances that rogue Palestinian action on the northern border will deteriorate into a confrontation that we theorize no one wants. If clashes are sparked, there is no telling who might become embroiled in them and on what scale.
Official Israel needs to begin drawing international attention to the growing dangers from Lebanon and Syria.