From Syria with Love?
At least seven katyusha rockets and multiple mortars were fired into three towns in Israel from Lebanon in the Wednesday overnight. One town in the far northeastern corner of Israel, Kiryat Shmona, was believed to have been targeted by Hezbollah, while the northwestern town of Shlomi was believed to have been targeted by the PFLP (Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Just a few miles west of Shlomi, explosions were also heard in the coastal city of Nahariya. Meanwhile, to the south in Gaza, the IDF began enforcing the newly mapped out ‘no-go zone’ in northern Gaza Strip after dropping leaflets warning Palestinians of the precise areas forbidden.
The Israeli Army quickly blamed Hezbollah for the northeastern rocket attack where two civilians were treated after two rockets struck an apartment building shortly before midnight. In the west along the Mediterranean, Israel identified the PFLP as the attackers and carried out airstrikes on their fortified tunnel system dug into the mountains overlooking the sea near the southern Lebanon town of Naameh, just five miles south of Beirut.
Israel quickly demanded that Lebanon take both responsibility for and control of what happens within its own borders with regards to terror attacks from southern Lebanon. According to Israeli General Udi Adam, “The main message that we passed, and we are trying to give, is that the Lebanese government must take responsibility for what happens in its territory,” General Adam told The Associated Press. “If Kiryat Shmona residents don’t sleep quietly, then the residents of Beirut won’t sleep quietly.”
Though not warmly, the message seems to have been received as Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned the rocket attacks. He also condemned the Israeli response, iterating that both actions were aimed at destabilizing Lebanon. While there is certainly no love lost between Israel and Lebanon, regardless of the common Syrian villain as largely seen by both (Saniora himself being anti-Syria), it should be recognized that Israel has little if anything to gain from any destabilization of Lebanon. The question is, ‘Who does?’
The synchronized attacks on separate parts of Israel indicates not only a larger coordinated attack, but an attack that may in fact be coordinated between two unrelated [relative term] terrorist organizations (Hezbollah is an Islamist Shi’ite terrorist group, while the PFLP (Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine) is a non-Islamist secular leftist terrorist organization.) If the two groups are both responsible for portions of a coordinated attack, it would logical to reason a common entity behind both are using them to escalate tensions with Israel on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
It could be argued that, with the ongoing negotiations with the EU and the IAEA, Iran would stand to benefit from a regional distraction. Iran has strong influence with and ties to (if not much control over) Hezbollah. However, Syria also has strong connections with Hezbollah and supports them financially and materially as well.
But Syria, with the ongoing UN investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri and the potential expansion of that investigation to include recent assassinations of anti-Syrain lebanese figures, stands to realize much more substantial and direct gains from an Israeli-Lebanese border conflict. Consider also that, borrowing a page from the Iranian playbook of diplomatic stalling, Syria now wants meetings to change the rules of ‘cooperation’ in the probe. Syria is desperate to find a means to crawl out from under the weight of the investigation. Further supporting the line of thinking that Syria may be behind the coordinated attacks is the unique amount of support the Syrian regime extends to the PFLP in Lebanon.
Not unlike Iran, Syria has demonstrated a certain iron will to fight the Israelis right down to the last Lebanese. This may be merely another manifestation of that strategy, borne more of necessity than opportunity.