In Lebanon, 5 die in border clash over placement of a Cypress tree
If these were the first shots fired in the next round of combat between Israel and Hezb'allah, the fact that the dispute was over where exactly a Cypress tree Israel was trying to prune in order to improve it's field of fire on the Lebanese border might cause future historians to shake their heads in wonder.
UNIFIL backs Israel's position that the tree was in Israeli territory. But it really doesn't matter. Five people are dead, including a "senior" Israeli officer and a Lebanese journalist who worked for al-Akhbar, an Arabic language daily - over a disputed Cypress tree.
Lots of speculation about whether the Lebanese army was acting under orders to initiate contact, but that hardly seems likely. As with the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in the summer of 2006 that led to the war between Israel and Hezb'allah, such actions by frontline combatants are rarely scripted. But that doesn't mean that Hezb'allah won't use the next clash as an excuse to start launching rockets into Israeli cities.
Here's Nasrallah in a fiery speech just hours after the clash over the Cyrpress tree:
"From the first moment, the opposition went on high alert in the region, followed all the events, and was in contact with the command headquarters. We notified the Lebanese military: We are prepared, we are with you, and we will help you with everything, if needed. Our people and our equipment stand at your disposal," Nasrallah said.
He also said that he updated the highest ranking officials in Beirut: "We also contacted the president, the parliament chairman, and the prime minister and updated them on this. We told them that we will not initiate any move, despite the painful images we saw. They asked for a quiet and responsible opposition. The message was clear to the Israeli enemy: Lebanon, all of Lebanon, will not leave any aggression on its occupied land unanswered and will stand by this courageously.
Hezb'allah may indeed be looking for a fight. The Special Tribunal investigating the assassination in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri is about to hand down indictments and several prominent Hezb'allah members are expected to be named. (The original investigation also named several high level Syrians as plotters, including President Assad's brother in law, but the UN has now apparently decided not to stir up that hornet's nest by including them in the indictment.)
Obama has distanced the US from Lebanon as a means of courting favor with Syria. He has also damaged relations with Israel. In short, at the exact time when American influence should be brought to bear in order to avoid a war between Lebanon and Israel, our impotence is obvious.
The uneasy peace along Israel's border with Lebanon can be broken at any time Hassan Nasrallah chooses. And with the entire government of Lebanon now reluctantly backing Hezb'allah's play, war seems even more likely than before.