Lebanese army soldiers in Tripoli - AP
Lebanese army soldiers on patrol in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday, June 3, 2012. Photo by AP
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Reuters
Lebanese army soldiers deploy in the Sunni Muslim-dominated neighborhood of Bab al-Tebbaneh in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, after sectarian clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites, August 23, 2012. Photo by Reuters

Israel's Northern Command fears the eruption of violent clashes within Lebanon and the possibility of a greater conflict between Lebanese citizens, officials said Saturday.

Recent reports have indicated that several people have been killed and more than a hundred wounded in clashes between Sunni and Alawite militias in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli.

As part of some of the cease-fire agreements between the militias, the Lebanese government decided to reshuffle the deployment of Lebanese troops and station them in the area of the sectarian clashes.

IDF officials fear Hezbollah would take advantage of the current situation and increase its control over the area near the border with Israel.

UNIFIL forces on the border with Israel have had difficulties dealing with Hezbollah – several times the international peacekeeping forces have clashed with Hezbollah militants, who were seen violating UN Resolution 1701.

Hezbollah, however, has been affected by economic distress, the uncertainty surrounding Assad's regime, and the effects of the economic sanctions on Iran.


For this reason, IDF officials explain, Hezbollah is attempting to carry out quiet operations that won't illicit a violent response from Israel, but that would still garner support from its followers.

One example of such an operation, according to Defense Ministry officials, is the transfer of 20 kilograms of C4 explosives into Israeli territory two months ago to two Israelis from the border village of Ghajar, which resulted in arrests by Israel Police and the Shin Bet.

A senior IDF officer who is deployed on the border with Lebanon explained that the army fears a similar situation. "Hezbollah has the means to decide whether it would like to carry out a terror attack or not," he said.

Meanwhile, the officer said, Hezbollah is on the fence, in both senses.

"It is collecting information, under the guise of shepherds, farmers, and hunters, and is treading gently," he said. "It understands that the IDF is strong and that when it wants to, the Israeli army can go crazy. For this reason, Hezbollah operatives reach the fence, document, gather weapons, and we understand that it is always becoming stronger."

In recent weeks, Israel has sent a clear message to the Lebanese government, in light of the deteriorating security situation in Syria, that the IDF will respond forcefully to any incitement on the part of Hezbollah.

According to the report in Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon that Israel would strike in Lebanon if Hezbollah attempted any provocation against Israel. Haaretz has learned that Netanyahu conveyed the message to the Lebanese government through a Western diplomat he met in Jerusalem several weeks ago.