MESS Report / Warnings of Hamas, Hezbollah Threats Should Be Taken Seriously

Ashkenazi: Lebanon could fall into Hezbollah's hands after indictments are served in probe into the Rafiq Hariri assassination; Diskin: Egypt could stop weapons smuggling into Gaza.

Two surprisingly honest statements have been made in the past two days by two of the most senior figures in the Israeli security establishment. While Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin are not likely to be cited for their political correctness or sensitivity to regional issues anytime soon, both were speaking the truth: The situation on the two fronts of which they spoke, Lebanon and Gaza, is not too encouraging.

Ashkenazi, keeping as great a distance as possible from Defense Minister Ehud Barak (the two appear to be going out of their way recently not to be caught together in the same place ), told his Canadian hosts yesterday that Lebanon could fall into the hands of Hezbollah after indictments are served in the investigation into the Rafiq Hariri assassination.

Diskin, meanwhile, told foreign reporters on Sunday that if Egypt wanted to, it could stop weapons smuggling into Gaza within 24 hours.

Hezbollah - AP - Nov. 12, 2010

IDF chief Ashkenazi was referring to a growing concern among top brass over the internal political situation in Lebanon. At this stage, the international tribunal seems determined to indict next month a number of senior Hezbollah officials for the murder of former prime minister Hariri. Israel will hardly shed a tear if Hezbollah finds itself in a fix, but it is also aware that the organization could undermine the current Lebanese regime to extract itself from the tribunal's siege.

All of these factors could also effect the situation along the Israel-Lebanon border, although intelligence services do not believe the Shi'ite Muslim organization has any particular desire right now to try its hand at another military confrontation with Israel.

Diskin's comments were attributed initially to a "senior Israeli intelligence official," who also informed the foreign press corps of the 80-km-range rockets smuggled into Gaza to allow Hamas to target Tel Aviv. Within a few hours, foreign media revealed the comments were in fact made by the Shin Bet chief. The security service appeared fairly unfazed, despite the potential embarrassment vis-a-vis the Egyptians.

It seems the Shin Bet predicted that the source's name would be uncovered, and besides, Diskin has made similar if perhaps slightly more careful statements before. Cairo also knows that Diskin is correct. It seems that at least on the topic of weapons smuggling, Israel no longer needs to walk on eggshells around the Egyptians. Five years after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, with the fight against weapons smuggling into Gaza yielding such limited results, Israel can finally complain out loud.

Whenever a senior security official speaks out publicly on a sensitive issue of a political nature, the media reflexively protests against the excessive commentary. But three months before his departure, it's about time Ashkenazi spoke more freely. As for Diskin, Israeli journalists who took part in his briefings have been impressed with his sober, direct approach. It seems the discussion should be focused on the essence of their comments - danger in Lebanon, frustration with Egypt - rather than on ceremony.