ANALYSIS Hezbollah Seeking to Change the Rules of the Game

Group wants to create situation in which it can freely fire rockets into Israel without sparking all-out war.

The firing of Katyusha rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel on Wednesday, for the second time in one week, is the result of Hezbollah's desire to alter the balance of power that has existed between the militant organization and Israel since the Second Lebanon War.

Hezbollah seeks to lay the foundation for a situation in the future in which the group can freely fire Katyushas at Israel, or use proxies to do so, without this constituting an all-out declaration of war, as occurred in the summer of 2006.

No group has yet taken responsibility for last Thursday's rocket fire and, in the meantime, no one has claimed Wednesday's attack, but it is clear that little happens in southern Lebanon without being coordinated in advance with Hezbollah.

Ibrahim al-Amin, an associate of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the editor of al-Akhbar, wrote on Wednesday that, "The actions in the field are ongoing, the ones out in the open and the ones that remain hidden in southern Lebanon, especially in the area in which UNIFIL operates south of the Litani River." Al-Amin was referring to the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed to monitor the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

In other words, Hezbollah has been extremely active, apparently also in areas where it has been forbidden to do so militarily. And looking ahead, when will Hezbollah have a better opportunity to change the regional rules of the game than it does now, during Israel's offensive against Hamas in Gaza, when cross-border fire receives greater legitimacy than during quiet times?

This should not be taken to mean that Hezbollah is interested in opening a new front, at least not at this stage. Lebanese commentators assert that the scenario in which a Palestinian group, probably Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, does the dirty work for Hezbollah, is the one that we are seeing now and are likely to see more of in the coming days, although not a confrontation of a greater magnitude.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah, wrote this week on the Electronic Intifada Web site that the defense of Hamas is central to Hezbollah's ideology, but that should not be interpreted as meaning that the organization is ready to pay the price for opening a second front in the north.

Saad-Ghorayeb said that Hezbollah only would consider military intervention against Israel if it believes Hamas is about to be crushed either militarily or politically.

He wrote: "Based on the centrality of the Palestinian cause to cannot allow Hamas to be crushed militarily on the battlefield or politically, by means of a humiliating cease-fire arrangement."