Neighbors / Rhetoric Strikes From the North

"We are all Gaza," declared the placards carried by demonstrators in Beirut. A picture of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser was hoisted above an image of the Egyptian "disgrace," President Hosni Mubarak, who has refused to open the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora is once again in a panic. Last week, he suggested Israel intended to take advantage of the war in Gaza to drag Lebanon into a new conflict. Siniora told Lebanese reporters that Turkey intends to warn Israel that Hezbollah might open a new front in the north if it does not cease its attacks on Gaza. Siniora is afraid Israel might initiate its own front against Lebanon to forestall a future Hezbollah move.

Lebanese journalists hastened to find out whether Hezbollah indeed intends to open a new front - but they received a reply in the negative. They checked with the United Nations Interim Force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon, which responded that there had been no unusual movement in southern Lebanon. Everything is apparently as it has been. That is, as it was before a number of Katyushas ready to be launched into Israel were found.

Opening a front in the north would embroil Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in truly superfluous adventure, considering that, thanks to Hezbollah's war against Israel, he now boasts the most political clout he has ever enjoyed. In last May's Doha agreement, Hezbollah received the right to veto government decisions and the promise of a new elections law that would afford the group greater power. In about six months, elections are scheduled to be held in Lebanon. Hezbollah does not want to open a new front with Israel for the sake of a Palestinian - not a Lebanese - issue and bring itself into the heart of a national conflict.

Nasrallah has yet to forget the protests that took place in Lebanon two years ago, protests which called upon Syria to liberate the Golan Heights itself and not to rely on organizations like Hezbollah and conduct its war against Israel from Lebanese territory. However, as long as a war rages in Gaza, and as long as Hezbollah is perceived as supporting Hamas with all its might, the organization's national status is secure; in a situation like this, no one in Lebanon would dare criticize the group.

Up his sleeve

"Nasrallah has never opened a front against Israel for the sake of the Palestinians," notes a Lebanese journalist. "This time, too, he is not even calling upon Egypt to fight Israel but only to open the Rafah border crossing. Nasrallah is acting in Hezbollah's interests, otherwise he would lose his legitimacy. Why haven't we heard a single word from him about the dialogue that Syria is conducting with Israel? Why did he wait until Syria announced the suspension of the contacts and did not demand early on from Syria that it take this step? All this testifies to what is in any case well known: Even if all of Gaza goes up in flames, all that Nasrallah will do for it is make his glorious speeches."

Settling accounts with Nasrallah is common among anti-Hezbollah Lebanese journalists. But it appears there is a basis for these claims. The war in Gaza is serving the interests of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran quite well, and they have no reason to cut the good times short.

What is new is Nasrallah's rhetoric: He has taken upon himself the role of Hamas spokesman. But this time Nasrallah is aiming his barbed remarks at Egypt and other Arab countries.

He is hastening to cast the blame for the situation in Gaza on them and is ridiculing their inability to do anything about it, complaining that they are not even capable of convening an Arab summit for Gaza's sake. What Nasrallah has forgotten is that while he is busy firing off condemnations at Arab countries for not rushing to Hamas' aid, he did not seek their intervention when Hezbollah was waging its own war against Israel.

"At that time we did not want Arab involvement and what we wanted was for the Arab states to leave us to our own devices," explained Nasrallah in a speech last week. But the difference is that Nasrallah succeeded in transforming the 2006 war into a political lever that would strengthen his standing inside Lebanon opposite a Lebanese and Arab coalition that was opposed to the war. The political structure in Lebanon was such that any outside Arab intervention was liable to erode his standing and narrow his demands of the Lebanese government.

Nor did Hezbollah really need the recognition of the Arab world. Hamas, however, does need Arab recognition - and any Arab involvement, especially Egypt's surrender to the demand to open the Rafah crossing, would only strengthen Hamas.

Moreover, this would not simply be Arab involvement - Syria would play an important role in it, which is another button Nasrallah would like to push.

Turkey blames Israel

"Israel is the biggest provocateur of terror in the world. Success in the struggle against terror will not be possible as long as Israel continues its provocations," accused Turkish Justice Minister Ali Mehmet Sahin in a statement he released on Saturday in Antalya. The following day, it was the turn of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who at the Saudi stop on his Middle Eastern tour accused Israel directly of violating the tahadiya, the truce with Hamas. "Hamas observed the truce for six months but Israel did not carry out the agreement to lift the embargo on Gaza. People in Gaza are living in a kind of prison.

In fact, all of Palestine is a prison. I am calling upon the entire world to show the same sensitivity it evinced in Georgia," said Erdogan - thus comparing Israel to Russia, which attacked Georgia last summer.

Erdogan, who is now trying to formulate a two-phase Turkish plan that aims to bring about a cease-fire and the opening of the crossing points, made it clear that Turkey is prepared to participate in a multinational force if there is a need for this. However, the Turkish mediator also warned Israel that "sooner or later, Allah will punish anyone who violates the rights of the innocent," and defined the Israeli attack as an act against humanity.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul - who was supposed to have visited Israel this week, but whose visit was cancelled for medical reasons, defined the Israel Defense Forces attack in the Gaza Strip as "a criminal act."

After Erdogan called Ariel Sharon a "terrorist" and in 2004 defined the attack on Gaza and the assassination of Ahmad Yassin as "state terrorism," comparing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to what the Inquisition did to the Jews in Spain, it appears that Israel has already become accustomed to Erdogan's big mouth.

This time, too, as in the past, there are those who are saying that Erdogan's remarks are intended for domestic Turkish consumption because in face of the hundreds of thousands of Turkish demonstrators against Israel and in the context of the important municipal elections coming up in March, Erdogan has to speak out harshly against Israel.

However, at the same time, the Israeli Embassy has apparently been experiencing the cold shoulder from the Turkish administration and many Turkish members of the Turkish-Israeli Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group have decided to resign from the organization.