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January 8, 2009
Iran opens second front against Israel
The other shoe dropped today in Israel's war against Hamas when two rockets were launched from southern Lebanon, striking an old folks home and slightly injuring a resident.
Israel responded with an artillery barrage at the site. Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora played the moral equivalencey card to perfection, decrying the attack launched from Lebanon - almost certainly by a Palestinian faction - while condemning Israel for their response.
In this, Siniora proves how much of a figurehead he really is. The man calling the shots in Lebanon at the moment is Hezb'allah "spiritual" leader Hassan Nassrallah. And the Palestinians responsible for launching the rockets were, at the very least, acting with his knowledge and approval. There is not much that happens in the south of Lebanon that escapes the attention of Nasrallah so despite Hezb'allah claims that they were not responsible for the attacks, the action has Hezb'allah's fingerprints all over it.
Does it also have Iran's?
It is sometimes too easy to draw a straight line from Iran to Hezb'allah in Lebanon and proclaim that the mullahs in Tehran ordered the attack. Nassrallah has his own agenda and to call him a simple puppet of Iran simply isn't true. However, there is little doubt that when Hezb'allah's interests coincide with Tehran's, they are more than eager to help facilitate Iran's strategic vision. And in this case, because of the meshing of interests between the two, it is too obvious to dismiss this action as anything except an attempt by Iran to open a second front against Israel, hoping perhaps to get the Jewish state bogged down in another Lebanese debacle.
Writing in Haaretz, Yoav Stern:
Iran has played this card well. Israel, winding down operations in Gaza and under intense international pressure to stop fighting, can hardly be expected to launch any major military operations against the south of Lebanon - especially with the UN "peacekeepers" there.
David Hornik, writing at Pajamas Media:
In fact, one of those UNIFIL patrols stumbled on some rocket launchers in southern Lebanon last week not far from where today's attack was initiated.
Too bad they missed the other 39,999 rockets shipped to Lebanon by Iran through Syria that Hezb'allah now has in their possession.
We know what's in it for Iran by opening a second front; embarrass Israel, tempt them to overreact, deflect attention from their nuclear program, perhaps even take some pressure off of Hamas militarily.
But what's in it for Nasrallah?
The most important elections in Lebanon's history will take place on June 7 of this year when Lebanese go to the polls to elect Members of Parliament. A new electoral agreement signed at the conference at Doha last year will give fewer seats to members of Christian sects while increasing the number of Shia representatives in the fast growing south of the country. It is possible to imagine - although a long shot at this point - that a coalition of Shia parties and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by Michel Aoun as well as a few minor pro-Syrian groups could win control of the parliament.
The March 14th coalition of democrats, led by Sunni Rafiq Hariri and containing a coalition of Christian and moderate Sunni parties, is still expected to poll a majority of seats - if the election is free and fair and Nasrallah doesn't try any bully boy tactics. That last is hardly a given, however, and it remains to be seen if any election in Lebanon can be free from the taint of Hezb'allah's menacing influence. After all, they are the ones with the guns. And they have shown in the past that when they don't get their way politically, Nasrallah will unleash his militia to attack other Lebanese factions.
But Nasrallah would prefer a little international legitimacy and to do so, he will probably play as fair as he is able where the election is concerned. To that end, he needs to constantly remind the voters of who their real enemy is (Israel) and who actually safeguards Lebanon (not the army). US attempts to strengthen the Lebanese military have been well meaning but much too little to make a difference in that moribund, barracks bound army. This suits Nasrallah fine as he desires no competition for the role of "Protector of Lebanon" and showing off Hezb'allah as the official "resistance" to Israel.
The rocket attack on Israel - almost certainly personally approved by Nasrallah - plays into both Iran's strategic requirements to weaken Israel (and by extension, the West) while giving Nasrallah an opportunity to remind the Lebanese voter of Hezb'allah's independence from the marginally pro-western government of Siniora and the terrorist's claim as the guarantor of Lebanese sovereignty.
Might we expect more rocket attacks from southern Lebanon? I think it is almost a certainty that as long as the IDF is active in Gaza, more provocations will come from that quarter.