Lebanon In Turmoil Déjà vu?
After Hezbollah abducted Ehud Goldvasser, 31, from Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, from the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin, Israel decided to take more serious measures – targeting Lebanon and the Lebanese government.
Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport was forced to close after Israeli fighter jets hit all three of its runways, leaving huge craters that rendered them completely unusable. All flights had been diverted (mostly to Cyprus) and all other scheduled flights have been grounded trapping swarms of tourists vacationing in Lebanon for the summer.
Hezbollah retaliated (although they deny their involvement) and fired rockets against the Israeli port city of Haifa which is only 30 km (18 miles) away from the Lebanese border suggesting that Hezbollah potentially possesses rockets which have a much further range than previously thought. Israel responded only an hour ago by hitting fuel tanks in the airport causing them to explode like fireballs. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is certain that the Haifa rockets came from Lebanon and from Hezbollah specifically and they place the blame on the escalation of violence on the guerillas who attacked inside Israel yesterday killing 8 soldiers and capturing Goldvasser and Regev. So far, 50 Lebanese civilians have died during the Israeli raids and most of them were citizens.
In the eyes of the Israelis, since Hezbollah has political leverage in the country and the Lebanese government, this implies that the government is to blame as well. However, Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi denounced the attacks and called for a cease-fire stating that the Lebanese government has nothing to do with Hezbollah’s attacks.
My previous two posts have in essence foreshadowed the current events and thus this is not surprising. However Israel’s retaliation on Beirut and on its airport is grief striking, moreover Israel have also blockaded Lebanese ports and have shelled other Lebanese towns. Israeli jets have also bombed Lebanese army air bases at Rayak and Baalbek TV transmitter in the Bekaa Valley.
The region is on the brink of full-fledged war.
Lebanese citizens are immediately reminded of the civil war in the 1980s and Israel’s occupation in 1982, they are stocking up on food supplies and heading to their other residences in the mountains – away from Beirut. Israel has been dropping Arabic leaflets in Beirut warning citizens to evacuate the southern suburbs of Beirut (essentially the areas concentrated with Hezbollah’s operations/bases).
The following are several observations made:
1) The situation could escalate very quickly despite efforts from Hezbollah to de-escalate. This could further incite Hamas to be involved from the Gazan side and create a ‘real’ two-front war.
2) Rhetoric of violence will continue to originate from Iran and Ahmadinejad. Iran, a Shiite Muslim state helped create Hezbollah under Ayatollah Khomenini. Such rhetroic will certainly incite further antagonism.
3) It will be much easier for Israel to place the blame on Syria and Iran for their military involvement with Lebanon and in planning the organized abduction of the two Israeli soldiers.
4) Israel has acted completely irrationally which the governments of France, Russia and members of the EU highly condemning the attacks and stating that the response was disproportionate.
5) Israeli soldiers have been killed/captured during clashes between Hezbollah, Hamas and the IDF in the past and yet Israeli retaliation has never been this severe.
6) The US might use current events as an excuse to further pressure Iran and Syria and possibly use coercion (military or economic sanctions) against both of them.
7) Israel has the Joker in its playing deck and is the only one capable of de-escalating and halting all the tit-for-tat. If they used the abduction of soldiers in Gaza and southern Lebanon as sparks to ignite the region then the controls are on one side of the playing field (i.e. if they eventually decided to light the cigarette, they should be the ones to extinguish it).
8) Hezbollah will not negotiate with Israel and will only agree to release the soldiers for a prisoner exchange.
9) Lebanese citizens are at the mercy of the Israelis and the stubbornness of Hezbollah. Syrian appointed President Emile Lahoud is a strong Hezbollah supporter and will not allow the Lebanese Army (who are weaker than Hezbollah) to stop the group’s activities.
Hezbollah has acted irresponsibly and Israel responded irrationally and in an erratic manner. The situation is extremely delicate and can reverse years of Lebanese rebuilding and any wounds which might have healed from the civil war.