It is not a coincidence that the August 3 clash on the Lebanese-Israeli border came as the United Nations tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri prepared to indict Hezbollah. The violence on the border, which was the worst since the 2006 war, was initiated by the Lebanese Army and came as Hezbollah desperately tried to blame Israel for the Hariri assassination.
The U.N. forces stationed in Lebanon confirm that the Israelis informed them of their plan to trim trees and bushes on the border to prevent the foliage from being used as cover for attacks. This sort of maintenance is routinely done in coordination with UNIFIL and Lebanese forces. When the Israelis began trimming one tree, two of their soldiers were fired upon by a sniper, killing one lieutenant-colonel. The Israelis forces struck back, killing two Lebanese soldiers and one journalist.
Lebanon maintains that Israeli forces had crossed the border and refused to leave. The U.N. says that this was not the case and they were attacked while in their own country. The tree that was being cut down when the violence began is located south of the Blue Line that the Israelis cannot cross. Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly described the incident as a “violent provocation.”
It is telling that journalists and broadcast vans were present for the fight, supporting Israel’s claims that they were the victim of a planned ambush. The journalist that was killed worked for the pro-Hezbollah newspaper, Al-Akhbar. His presence does not necessarily prove Hezbollah’s involvement, but the timing of the clash indicates this was a planned event designed to stop the U.N. from indicting the terrorist organization in Hariri’s death.
This does not necessarily mean that it was Hezbollah that gave the orders to the Lebanese soldiers. Dr. Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center told FrontPage that Hezbollah may not have directly carried out the ambush, but the incident is a reflection of the terrorist group’s power.
“It is a sign of the penetration of Hezbollah’s influence and the spirit of ‘resistance’ (muqawuma) in the Lebanese army on the background of the growing concern in Hezbollah leadership that a possible indictment by the international tribunal in the Hariri affair will provoke an internal crisis and some kind of de-legitimization of the movement,” Dr. Karmon said.
Joe Hyams of Honest Reporting, an organization that combats media bias against Israel, told FrontPage that Hezbollah did not need to carry out the attack itself. He also said that the clash not only serves as a distraction from the Hariri investigation, but also helps Hezbollah justify its existence by picking a fight with Israel.
“Having the Lebanese army do the job frees Hezbollah from the responsibility for provoking the incident and inviting an international backlash as well as a heavy Israeli response,” he said.
Hyams said it is an “open secret” that there is a significant amount of Hezbollah sympathizers in the Lebanese army, particularly in the south where the incident occurred.
Since the second term of the Bush Administration, figures once opposed to Syria and Hezbollah have capitulated. Even the son of Rafiq Hariri, Saad, is meeting with Hezbollah officials and Bashar Assad, who he told that if Hezbollah is indicted, he’ll accuse an “external element” of infiltrating the group to carry out the killing of his father—an apparent reference to Israel.
The ambush happened as the U.N. prepared to indict three to five members of Hezbollah, to be followed by a second indictment of about 20 officials. The suspected mastermind is Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior member of Hezbollah who is a cousin of Imad Mughniyeh, the former operational leader of Hezbollah who was killed in 2008. The evidence against Hezbollah is significant. The U.N. investigators tracked down eight phones used by those involved, which then led them to 20 more phones. All of the phones were connected to Hezbollah terrorists.
The phones were used by a Hezbollah member trained in Iran named Abd al-Majid Ghamlush who used one to call his girlfriend. He has since gone missing. The phones were also connected to Hajj Salim, a Hezbollah commander in South Beirut who now runs a “Special Operational Unit” alongside al-Din overseen by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Both Salim and al-Din also report to the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The tribunal reportedly even identified the Hezbollah operative who received the truck used in the bombing.
When word came out that al-Din was about to be indicted, Saad Hariri asked the U.N. to delay the announcement. Bashar Assad warned that he’d stand by Hezbollah and that indicting them could “destroy” Lebanon. Following these warnings, the border clash happened. Hezbollah vowed to fight Israeli forces if fighting again erupted, and Nasrallah soon after held a press conference to make the case that Israel killed Rafiq Hariri by showing alleged surveillance footage from Israeli drones of his traveling routes. He also claimed that a Lebanese spy for Israel confirmed that he had cased the site the day prior to the attack.
Hezbollah and its supporters planned the violence as a way of distracting the world’s attention and possibly delaying the U.N. indictments. Hezbollah and its allies appear to believe that provoking a conflict with Israel can minimize the political blowback against them by casting themselves as the protector of the Lebanese. Israel should ready itself for the war that Hezbollah has been actively preparing for.