Both Lebanese and foreign political leaders sought to calm the mood in Beirut on Thursday, a day after the collapse of Saad Hariri's government following the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and their allies.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that "there will never be a war between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon." Security sources told Haaretz that although Israel continues to monitor the situation, the developments are seen at this point as internal and not an immediate risk of producing a border conflict with the Israel Defense Forces.
Most Arab commentators also agree that no escalation is expected in Lebanon in the coming days. Nasrallah engineered the crisis and his men appear to be responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri six years ago. He seems to think that the mere memory of the last conflict instigated by his movement ¬ in which Hezbollah forces surrounded government ministries in Beirut two years ago ¬ would be enough to make the Lebanese surrender to his demands.
In other words, it would appear that despite the risk that Hezbollah members will be indicted in the international tribunal, Nasrallah is in no hurry to spark a civil war. A full-fledged military conflict with his rivals would damage Hezbollah's image as a Lebanese organization.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman asked on Thursday that Saad Hariri retain his post as head of a caretaker government. The move is aimed to maintain stability at least for the next few days, until the picture becomes clearer. Meanwhile, mediation processes between rival forces continue, despite Hezbollah's controlled demolition of the government. Hariri, who met on Thursday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, will meet over the weekend with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to seek ways to achieve a compromise with Hezbollah.
These moves leave most commentators and Western intelligence agencies with the feeling that the chances are slim the crisis will escalate into a civil war or military clash with Israel. Nasrallah too knows that after a year of impressive growth ¬ 7 percent in 2010 the achievements of the Lebanese economy may be lost if he takes the risk and drags his country once more into a war.
Contrary to reports in the international media on Thursday, the IDF did not significantly increase its alert level on the northern border, and did not concentrate forces there. Intelligence officials during the weekly briefing with Defense Minister Ehud Barak said they did not believe the events in Beirut would have immediate implications for the situation on the border.
But Israel remains keenly aware of Hezbollah's growing strength and its preparations for a potential military conflict with Israel. The process involves much more than the 45,000 rockets the organization is already believed to have. At a recent meeting between the IDF, the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL, the Lebanese officers claimed there was no Hezbollah activity in the south of the country. In response, the Israeli officers produced a map with hundreds of dots marking Hezbollah outposts and bunkers south of the Litani River.
The organization continues enjoying Iranian sponsorship and the supply of Iranian and Syrian weapons, although financial aid from Tehran has been cut in recent months due to the sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council.
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