ANALYSIS / Israel's threats to Lebanon only boost Hezbollah
Any Israeli attack against Lebanese civilian infrastructure will rally the government behind Hezbollah.
Which Lebanon exactly does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold responsible for every Hezbollah action? Two months following the elections, Lebanon still has no government. The prime minister-designate, Sa'ad Hariri, just returned on Monday from a vacation in the south of France, the distribution of portfolios has yet to be completed and is likely to be delayed further due Walid Jumblatt's decision to quit the majority bloc, and there does not appear to be anyone in Lebanon that is moved by the Israeli threats.
At the same time, it is clear to all parties in Lebanon that the Israeli threats to harm civilian infrastructure as retaliation for a Hezbollah attack have no basis since such reprisals will bear no influence on anyone within or without the Beirut government. The Lebanese public has already weighed in on its preference during the last elections in which Hezbollah was dealt a crushing blow (yet still wields considerable political leverage in the country).
Any Lebanese government would be compelled to stand behind Hezbollah in the event that civilian installations are attacked by Israel. The Syrian government, which has always been the address on which to assign responsibility, is behaving as if it is not involved in the domestic Lebanese arena to the point where it has even garnered praise from the U.S. and France. This time, Damascus can once again evade the brunt of responsibility.
Hezbollah, which has volleyed back the Israeli threats with some of their own, is also unmoved by statements uttered by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Sources close to the organization have been quoted in Lebanese newspapers that they are certain Israel will not attack without approval from the American administration. In their view, Washington has no interest in any escalation that can derail Obama's diplomatic plans and spoil the closer ties that are developing between the U.S. and Syria.
There is widespread agreement in Lebanon that an extraordinary set of circumstances whereby Hezbollah executes a massive, high-casualty terrorist attack would leave Israel little alternative but to attack. Yet, in the present situation in which Hezbollah is carefully calculating its political moves in Lebanon, the assessment holds that it will choose to refrain from such an adventure. Hezbollah is now in a comfortable position in which Israel's threats bolster its arguments for continued armament as part of the Lebanese "defense alignment." The Shi'ite militia views itself as a legitimate partner to the Lebanese army.
A different question arises from the link between the plot to target the Israeli ambassador in Egypt and Hezbollah. According to statements given to Egyptian authorities, the terror cell belongs to an extreme Islamist group which conspired to commit a series of attacks and robberies in Egypt. Their ideological goal was to rattle the existing order in Egypt to the point where the regime would fall. Yet, in contrast to Ayalon's rush to link the terror cell with Hezbollah, the Egyptian reports make no connection between the two organizations.