Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of fellow Shiite militants Nizar Tarraf (R) and Mohammad Murtada (L), during their funeral in the town of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, October 6, 2014
Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of fellow Shiite militants Nizar Tarraf (R) and Mohammad Murtada (L), during their funeral in the town of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, October 6, 2014 © - AFP/File
Hezbollah fighters carry the coffin of fellow Shiite militants Nizar Tarraf (R) and Mohammad Murtada (L), during their funeral in the town of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, October 6, 2014
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Sammy Ketz and Rita Daou
Last updated: October 8, 2014

Hezbollah eager to show it can fight rough on two fronts

Banner Icon With its recent attack on Israeli troops, Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah may be trying to prove it can fight on two fronts at once – against both its traditional enemy and Syrian rebels.

With its recent attack on Israeli troops, Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah may be trying to prove it can fight on two fronts at once -- against both its traditional enemy and Syrian rebels.

But experts say there is little risk of that escalating into a full-blown conflict with Israel.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah claimed a roadside bomb in the Shebaa Farms area near the ceasefire line that wounded two Israeli soldiers and prompted Israeli artillery fire into Lebanon.

"Hezbollah wants to show its base that it can still hold its own against Israel and to say loud and clear that it can act on several fronts," said Waddah Sharara, a sociology professor at the Lebanese University of Beirut.

In addition to facing arch-enemy Israel, the powerful movement has been fighting alongside its ally, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, against an uprising that began in March 2011.

On Sunday, eight Hezbollah fighters were killed in clashes with jihadists in eastern Lebanon, in the latest incident that saw the group targeted for supporting Assad's regime.

Sharara said the Tuesday incident on the ceasefire line between Lebanon and Israel appeared to be isolated.

"I think it was a case of a totally controlled skirmish and there is no indication that one side or the other intended to escalate. Hezbollah is afraid of setting off an uncontrolled and uncontrollable process," he said.

But a Hezbollah official said the attack was intended as a warning to Israel.

He accused the Jewish state of supporting Al-Nusra Front jihadists and Syrian rebels in a bid to help them launch attacks against Hezbollah from the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon.

"The operation carries a very clear message to the Israelis and their allies -- old and new. They are facilitating the transport of weapons and fighters from the hills of Quneitra (in Syria) towards Kfarchouba" in the Shebaa Farms, the official told AFP.

- 'No imminent danger' -

The Shebaa Farms has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war and has been caught in a tug-of-war over ownership ever since.

"The Israelis think they can impose the new rules of the conflict in south Lebanon and the resistance (Hezbollah) has made it known that this is not possible," the official said.

He added that Hezbollah was "mobilised and ready," and that the "work it does in Syria does not weaken it on the southern front" with Israel.

In Israel, commentator Yossi Melman, writing in the Jerusalem Post, said Hezbollah was sending a message to the Jewish state: "No more carte blanche for the IDF (Israeli army) in Lebanon."

Israeli and Lebanese troops regularly trade fire across the so-called Blue Line, which was drawn up after the 2000 withdrawal of Israeli troops ended a 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

The Jewish state also violates Lebanese air space regularly and fought a bloody conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 after the group captured two Israeli soldiers.

Hilal Khashan, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut, agreed with the Hezbollah official that Israel appeared to be testing the Lebanese group on the border area.

"Israel is trying to change the rules of play in south Lebanon... telling themselves that Hezbollah is caught up in Syria," he said.

But he said the incident was not likely to spiral into anything more serious, noting "the Israeli response was somewhat limited."

"There is no imminent danger of a generalised explosion in Lebanon."

The latest flare-up, he said, was also Hezbollah's response to earlier Israeli military action in Lebanon -- including a February raid on the Lebanese-Syrian border and the killing last month of a Hezbollah member when an Israeli listening device he was dismantling was detonated remotely.

"It's just a goal for Hezbollah," Khashan said. "Israel scored two when it targeted the position on the part of the border with Syria and when it killed the Hezbollah explosives expert".

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