Syria and Lebanon Border Clashes Are Not Start of Third Intifada

Palestinian leaders are unlikely to endorse an armed uprising in their quest for statehood; neither the Palestinians nor Israel's neighbors have any interest in a conflict within or outside Israel's borders.

It's all too easy to draw a line connecting Tehran, the Golan Heights and Maroun al-Rass. It's even easier to link Sunday's Nakba Day events with those anticipated in September. But the facts that the border between Syria and the Golan Heights was stormed by Palestinians of all people and that Israel fired into Lebanon at something other than a Hezbollah provocation are not exactly what either Bashar Assad or Hassan Nasrallah had been praying for.

Some say that Sunday's events serve Assad by diverting media attention from the ongoing killings of demonstrators on his own territory, while playing into the hands of Iran, which is pushing for a militant line against Israel. But the main Arabic TV networks, which led with the Nakba Day events, didn't spare their audiences reports about events in Syria, and even Syria's own state media, which gave the Nakba considerable space, went on with its propaganda war against the opposition protesters.

Druze in the village of Majdal Shams

Still, the most important news of the day was that the border that Syria (as a matter of strategic choice) has kept quiet for several decades, had been breached. While Israel needs to draw its own conclusions about being caught off guard, there's a lesson in store for Syria as well.

Syria, which has taken pains to avoid having its territory become a battleground for the Arab-Israeli conflict or letting foreign powers use its territory as a base for this purpose, should be quite concerned about the Palestinian initiative, which may well have taken the Syrian leadership by surprise. According to Lebanese sources, the Syrians agreed to let the Palestinian march and demonstrate but not to breach the border.

If breaching the border had been a matter of policy, Hezbollah might also have allowed Palestinians in Lebanon to try to storm the fence rather than only hurling rocks over it. The organization has always carefully and zealously maintained a monopoly on border skirmishes with Israel, retaining exclusive control over the timing and character of any such clashes. In the past, the organization would retaliate in response to Israeli fire into Lebanon and threaten revenge whenever any Lebanese civilian had been killed.

Nasrallah was mum Sunday, and the Hezbollah website's main headline remained "Save the Bahraini people."

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, which denounced the killings and Israel's policy in the occupied territories, refrained from endorsing the border infiltration, and Iranian news agencies did not even mention it. As a rule of thumb, the Iranian media have been giving top priority to reports on events in Bahrain.

Containing Palestinian resistance into boundaries so that it does not threaten Syrian or Lebanese sovereignty or provoke a violent Israeli retaliation are likely to be the guiding principles of Syria and Lebanon come September as well.

The idea that Sunday's events are precursors of a third intifada is not particularly convincing. The Palestinian Authority, this time together with Hamas, is determined to get to September without compromising its legitimacy. Any violent outbursts would serve Israel, which would use them to portray the Palestinian leadership as a group of terrorists.

Even if and when the Palestinian state is recognized, its leaders will prefer exhaust diplomatic and political channels afforded by recognition before opting to resume the armed struggle.