Text size

In the three years and three months since the IDF pulled out of southern Lebanon, both fears and hopes have been dashed. Opponents of the withdrawal warned the fighting on the northern border wouldn't cease, but only take on new, different shapes, forms and styles and in different zones. Those in favor of the withdrawal believed Hezbollah would lose the incentive or excuse to continue its campaign. Both were wrong, partially at least.

The IDF has had a few casualties in the north, where in the previous decade many soldiers were killed, even though the image of Hezbollah's successes strengthened combative elements in Palestinian society that helped it overcome the moderate elements and contributed to the outbreak of the violence in September 2000.

The worst predictions were not borne out, but those who expected the best were also disappointed. Hezbollah kidnapped and killed three soldiers (and is also holding a citizen, Elhanan Tennenbaum), fired frequently (though mostly without causing casualties) in the Har Dov area, committed a terror attack in the Metsuba area and fired cannons at planes - on the grounds that Israel had invaded Lebanese air space - but in effect firing the shells so they landed in northern communities.

Except for the Metsuba incident, all the casualties until yesterday were from the armed forces and that was taken as a sign that Hezbollah wanted to keep it a limited conflict.

This is brinkmanship, an attempt to avoid total conflict that would result in the full force of the IDF being brought to bear in an assault to destroy the military framework of Hezbollah and force the Lebanese government to impose its will on southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is free to provoke Israel and drag it into an all-out conflict, lest it result in American intervention, while U.S. forces are located in Iraq and threatening Syria and Iran. But if it does so, without continuing the Palestinian war against Israel to get its own state and without getting back its prisoners, there will be those who question the logic of the organization existing as a militia (the only one remaining in Lebanon since the Taif agreement) and not as a party.

Nasrallah is trying for a deluxe escalation: verbal aggression, once every three to six months a shelling in the Har Dov area, and more frequently - every week, and lately every day - anti-aircraft fire that hits Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi and other communities in the north.

Israel, which is not interested in deterioration, is taking steps that keep in mind general considerations, but also the measure of casualties. Disruptions of day-to-day life and tourism in the Galilee can be considered a low price compared to igniting the entire northern front; in the past Syrian targets were also struck.

Now, after teenager Haviv Dadon was killed in Shlomi yesterday and other civilians were wounded, the balance is beginning to shift toward a solution with force.

So far, Israel's responses have been mostly diplomatic, through Washington and the UN, and that was good. The international elements must enlist in the effort to rein in Hezbollah and rid it of its arms, before Lebanon is once again swept into war.