Israeli provocation on Lebanese border could trigger new war

An Israeli soldier being dangled like bait on the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border today.

Update below

Border clashes between Israeli and Lebanese troops have left three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist dead. Lebanon’s Hezbollah TV, Al Manar, reports one high-ranking Israeli officer has been killed but this has not been confirmed by the Lebanese army or UN troops stationed in southern Lebanon.

As the photo above makes clear, this was a blatant act of provocation by Israeli forces — no one accidentally strayed over the border. This is more like kids tossing matches to find out whether a brush fire will start.

Tony Karon writes:

Should a new war break out, Israel is determined to strike a more devastating blow more quickly than it did during the last conflict, in which it failed in its objective of destroying Hizballah. It has publicly warned that it would destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, and that Syria, as Hizballah’s armorer, would not be off-limits. But Hizballah believes its capacity to fire missiles into Tel Aviv is key to restraining Israel from returning to finish off the Shi’ite militia. And, of course, amid regional tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, members of the self-styled “axis of resistance” — Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah — have deepened their alliance, raising the possibility of any one of those groups joining the fray should any of the others come under attack from Israel or the U.S.

Although all of the main players have good reason to avoid initiating another war right now, the Crisis Group warns that “tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve.” At some point, Hizballah’s growing deterrent could cross Israel’s red line. And the Western diplomatic boycott of the resistance camp is cause for alarm because there are no effective channels through which the various antagonists can be made to understand how their actions could produce unintended consequences — in the tragic tradition of Middle Eastern wars that erupted in part because the adversaries failed to understand one another’s intentions. Indeed, after proclaiming his movement’s “divine victory” in standing up to Israel’s 2006 offensive, a feat that made him a hero on the streets of the Arab world, Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah did admit that had he known Israel would respond with a full-blown invasion, he would have avoided the provocation of snatching the Israeli troops that started the showdown.

The danger posed by the lack of communication channels between the resistance camp and the Israelis explains why British Prime Minister David Cameron, a recent guest at the White House, last week went to Ankara to urge Turkey to maintain its ties with Israel and use its ties to the likes of Syria to facilitate communication that could mitigate an outbreak. Turkey has been pilloried in some quarters in the West — and certainly in Israel — for its diplomatic rapprochement with the likes of Syria, Iran and Hamas, but Cameron’s appeal was a tacit admission that the continuing Bush-era policy of refusing to engage with the region’s designated “radicals” has sharply diminished the ability of the U.S. and the European Union to influence events in the Middle East. Peace talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israelis are all very well, but Abbas is not at war with Israel, nor would he be even if a new round of fighting broke out in Gaza.

While it is widely assumed that Hezbollah would have a critical role to play in the event that Israel launches or instigates an attack on Iran, it likewise follows that the IDF will be tempted to decisively neutralize this threat preemptively. The problem, for Israel, is this: what happens if a preemptive attack fails, meaning, Israel comes under even heavier rocket attack than it did in 2006 and that Hezbollah survives an even more brutal onslaught than it suffered in that war? In such an outcome, the idea of subsequent military action against Iran becomes even more implausible than it already is.

Update: Ynet reports:

IDF Lieutenant Colonel Dov Harari, 45, was killed in the border skirmish with the Lebanese army Tuesday.

Harari was an IDF reservist who served as a battalion commander in the sector where the clash took place. Another Israeli commander sustained serious wounds in the skirmish, the army said.

The fact that Al Manar reported this fatality hours before it was confirmed by the IDF, suggests that Hezbollah continues to effectively monitor Israeli communications.

Haaretz provides the quaint explanation that the violence was triggered “over a move by Israeli soldiers to trim some hedges along the border,” though the Jerusalem Post said: “Other reports said the Israeli soldiers were attempting to plant cameras.”

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  1. “the idea of subsequent military action against Iran becomes even more implausible than it already is.”

    Unsupported conclusion, unsupported conclusion, unsupported conclusion. I agree with everything else, but you just stuck that on. It could lead to desperation, exacerbating the perceived threat (from without) from Iran, Syria. A desperate Israel could well be far more dangerous than one that feels they have everything under control. A realist should know that.

    It seems this will be decided here, as all matters relating to Israel are decided here. Will sensible policy win out, will economic imperatives spur us to reconsider? There is no reason to think that in the lobbied bubble of Washington that these are concerns that influence much.

    There are voices in the Tea party that are concerned about our defense burdens but they are marginalized and co-opted. Libertarians oppose our defense as do most liberals, yet our policies are bought and paid for. We are asking our representatives to personally forgo literally millions of dollars in lucre to do the right thing. The media obscures this narrative from us, influenced by ad dollars from the same parties that lobby so effectively our legislature, our executive brach and judiciary; literally installing high placed operatives in high positions of power.

  2. “Al Manar, reports one high-ranking Israeli officer has been killed but this has not been confirmed ”

    I was wondering that too, until Haaretz just confirmed it.

    “One Israeli officer was killed during clashes between Israel and the Lebanese army along the border on Tuesday. 45-year-old Dov Harari, from Netanya, was a reserves commander in the engineering corps. ”

    The question is, how did Al Manar know before anyone else? I’m certainly not saying that in an accusatory way, but that it seems that Hezbollah is still able to monitor IDF communication. A good thing as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Colm O' Toole says:

    A potential war between Israel and Lebanon has certainly been talked about in the last few weeks. This event today pushes events to the brink even though I doubt either side is willing to move over the line.

    Of course another interesting question is if Israel does attack Lebanon how would Syria react. Military ties in the “resistance axis” have been solidified greatly since the bombing on the Syrian reactor. Would Israel if losing against Hezbollah start bombing Syria as well?

    Syria’s Assad has said today in light of the 5 deaths “Syrian President Bashar Assad said hours after the confrontation that Syria will stand by Lebanon “in the face of Israel’s criminal aggression.”

  4. The crane is not in Lebanese territory. Israel erected the fence away from the official UN border in order to leave a buffer zone between the protective fence and the border. That tree lies outside of the fence, but inside of Israel. For clarification, google the “Blue line” between Israel and Lebanon.

  5. i think the most startling thing about all this is the timing. while the lebanese have been anticipating the big nasrallah speech (finale of 3) presumably w/the progress of the israeli spy ring investigation and their response to the tribunals allegations hezzbollah assassinated hariri this ‘skirmish’ should suck the air out of the room and news of the speech in the west might appear to be nasrallah ‘responding’ to this attack.

  6. Wait until this is investigated.The only ones I trust are the Israelis.Anything they say or do with regard to this incident will be analyzed intensively by independent watchdogs.The govt. will be held to account.This is democracy.

  7. @MKrein
    I agree with you, that the fence does not neccessarily is on the blue line. So it’s not definitely to see in the picture, whether this photograph is proof of border violation, if you do not have a very, very detailed map of the blue line in exactly this location.

    But the opposite conclusion is neither true. That the fence was not always build not exactly on the border, does not mean that there was no Israeli border violation. It could well be that the Israeli soldier is shown as well behind the fence as behind the border.

    How many centimeters the fence was build before the border in exactly this location? I see some sticks about 100 cm behind the border, which could well be border markers. If these are border markers, than the Israeli soldier in the picture was as well behind the fence and on the Lebanese side of the border.

    So what is needed to do? I think best is to wait for an official UNIFIL statement to learn more about who violated the border – and who violated it first – in this incident. So far, what we all know is that Israel usually disrespects the border and regularly violates the border in airspace.

  8. Norman Morley says:

    This could be just a fake. Perhaps, the Israeli’s want to see if they can provoke enough to find out if the Hezbollah will shoot the rockets that are believed to be in their possession? A tune up for a larger exercise?

  9. I see from latest report that UNIFL said the trees were ‘within’ Israeli territory.
    But I hardly see that it matters considering that as another poster said…Israel is always lighting and throwing matches.
    But since they under much more scrutiny by everyone now they are being a bit more careful in setting up their provocations.

  10. Stop IT! Just stop it!

    Actually, it’s israel tht started it. They’re always provocking other countries and starting wars.
    We, People are on to you, and your shenanigans, israel!

    We, The People, no longer support you, or have any sympathy for you!

    NO war!

  11. Do you know what separates my backyard from my Neighbor’s? A fence. Although this may not be the exact demarcation of the property lines, we consider it so because who would erect a fence (especially marking a hostile border) that does not mark the end of their property and the beginning of another? So, whatever the (unmarked) border between Lebanon & Israel was in 1923, 1949, 1978, or 2000, to the ill-equiped non-surveyor layman, it is now marked by a fence. Additionally, this fence was erected by the Israelis.
    “The 2000 Blue Line differs in about a half dozen short stretches from the 1949 line…” Why would you do that if not to cause confusion? Being a hostile border, that confusion can only lead to one thing: violence.

  12. I am an American.
    When someone comes into my home and attacks me, my retaliation is called “defense”. If I were to attack someone in their home, their reaction would also be called “defense”.
    Are we still defending ourselves? If we are not defending ourselves, then our military should be inactive.
    If not, then what is our motivation for our military actions that cause others to react defensively? Do these motivations coincide with our Constitution?
    “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” -Thomas Jefferson 1782
    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” -Thomas Jefferson 1787

  13. FYI: Re this story: Robert Fisk vs Jason Koutsoukis (7/8/10) at Middle East Reality Check (