Analysis / Hezbollah Sends a Message - to Beirut

When Hezbollah attacks Israeli targets, as it did yesterday when it fired at military posts in Har Dov, along the Israel-Lebanon border, it generally has a reason.

Sometimes the attack is a reaction to Israeli infiltration of Lebanese airspace, and sometimes the reasons have to do with domestic Lebanese politics.

Hezbollah said yesterday's attack, in which it opened fire on the Israel Defense Forces posts and launched mortar shells at them, came in response to Israeli infiltration of Lebanese territory. But on the eve of the appointment of a new Lebanese prime minister, which is set for today, it's difficult not to link the domestic politics to the attack on Har Dov.

The prime ministerial candidate representing the camp of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri is former finance minister Fuad Siniora, who was in charge of finances for Hariri's business empire in Saudi Arabia.

The new government will depend primarily on Christian support, as indicated by yesterday's announcement by Christian opposition leader Gen. Michel Aoun that he plans to join the government. Such a government is likely to have a troublesome agenda from Hezbollah's perspective.

A government dependent on Christian parliamentary support would not only feel free of Syrian pressure but would also have to cope with the continued implementation of United Nations Resolution 1559, which would require Hezbollah to disarm and become an organization that is political but not militaristic.

During the parliamentary elections one could hear hints from Hezbollah indicating the group would be willing to "secretly discuss" the weapons issue without saying whether it would be willing to disarm. Publicly, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah warned against an attempt to forcibly disarm the organization. But it seems that Hezbollah, which understands how much pressure it will face, will agree to begin a disarmament process if Israel withdraws from Har Dov, the Israeli name for the Shaba Farms.

Hezbollah wants to define the type of challenge it is posing the new government: Now that Lebanon has gotten rid of Syrian forces, the government must also get Israel out of the Shaba Farms, or else Hezbollah will take care of it by dragging Lebanon into violent conflict with Israel.

This is also Hezbollah's opportunity to see how the new political leadership in Lebanon will view the military monopoly Hezbollah has claimed in relation to Israel.

Despite Hezbollah's electoral victory in Lebanon, in which the Hezbollah-Amal alliance won 35 of 128 parliamentary seats, the new political structure will make it difficult for Hezbollah to expand its independent anti-Israel activities.

On the one hand, Siniora has said he will not give in to external attempts to dictate how Lebanon should treat Hezbollah, saying it is a domestic issue. However, Siniora and other Hariri supporters represent a demand for quiet on the security front to allow for economic development in Lebanon. This was also Rafik Hariri's position, and he held negotiations on the issue with Hezbollah until his death in February.