Analysis / Excuses for the Firing in the North

Hezbollah has at least three "good reasons" for last week's attack on Har Dov: The fifth anniversary of the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from Lebanon, parliamentary elections there later this month and the "protector" role that Hezbollah has taken upon itself following Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon.

But Hezbollah has yet another good reason: With the Christian-Druze opposition about to come together to form a bloc, perhaps one that will win the election, and with General Michel Aoun recreating his own political bloc to run for elections, he may need to be reminded of the violent forces he could find himself up against.

Hezbollah is firing at Israel, but it is aiming first and foremost at the Lebanese domestic front, and especially at the opposition. Apparently, it wants to emphasize that even if the opposition blocs win - still a doubtful prospect in the face of internal disagreement - Hezbollah can threaten their ability, or that of any other political force, to rule.

Shooting at Israel and an Israeli response are enough to upset the security situation in Lebanon, halt investment, focus public opinion on security matters and restore Hezbollah's dignity, undermined of late. Therefore, a renewal of violent skirmishes acts as a political deterrent in Lebanon.

Hezbollah faces another dilemma. Reports from Lebanon say that talks are being held between senior Lebanese officials and the Syrians to reverse the Syrian position and claim the Shaba Farms area as Lebanese rather than Syrian. So far, Syria has been unwilling to approve the move in writing; Damascus is making do with general declarations that will not satisfy the UN, which still sees the farms as territory conquered from Syria.

According to the reports, the quiet transfer of the Shaba Farms would create pressure on Israel to withdraw, bring an end to a state of affairs that continually ignites the border. It would also reinforce the demand to disarm Hezbollah. The latter, which has turned the Shaba Farms into a justification for its armed struggle against Israel, won't be able to oppose an initiative to transfer the farms to Lebanon, but it does not want to leave the move, at least as far as appearences go, to the diplomats. If Israel withdraws from Shaba, Hezbollah will take credit; therefore all firing in the Shaba area serves its interests.

Hezbollah is currently benefiting from the freedom provided by the new situation in Lebanon, ruled by a temporary government that lacks both the status and the charismatic leadership to move on the diplomatic front the way Rafik Hariri could.

Also, even Israel does not hold Syria, which has withdrawn from Lebanon, responsible for Hezbollah's actions, but rather Lebanon. Therefore, Israel has no choice but to relate to developments on the Lebanese domestic front as an important component in its military considerations.