JERUSALEM, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Ever since Israel's war with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah four years ago, there have been constant warnings from both sides that a return to violence is just around the corner.
|An Israeli helicopter is seen evacuating one of injured soldiers from the northern|
border, Aug 3,2010. (Xinhua/Jini)
Those threats transformed into deadly fire on Tuesday with the killing of Lebanese and Israeli soldiers during an exchange across their shared border.
While the Lebanese army and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) enjoy quiet cooperation via the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping force, Israel and Hezbollah are firmly eyeing one another in a constant state of alert.
Israel has repeatedly warned, though, since the summer of 2006, that if Hezbollah attacks Israel, then Israel would hold the Lebanese government responsible.
In the first hours after the initial reports of a cross-border clash, the picture was one of confusion.
Israeli army said it was fired on by people wearing Lebanese military uniforms. "An IDF force was fired upon from within Lebanon. The soldiers were on routine activity in Israeli territory, in an area that lies between the 'blue line' (the internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon) and the security fence, thus within Israeli territory," read a statement from the IDF.
However, in Lebanon, the claim was that Israel fired an artillery shell over the frontier. The shell hit a military vehicle, leaving at least two Lebanese soldiers dead.
The Israeli government made its position very clear a short time after the incident. "Israel views the firing from Lebanon on an IDF patrol, which was operating along the Lebanese border in coordination with UNIFIL, as a grave violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701," the country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it is filing an official protest with the UN.
"Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the grave incident, and warns of the consequences should these violations continue," the statement added.
The Lebanese leadership also filed a protest with the UN and roundly condemned Israel's "violation of Lebanese sovereignty and demands... the UN and the international community bear their responsibilities to pressure Israel to stop its aggression," the Lebanese web portal Naharnet quoted the country's Prime Minister Saad Hariri as saying.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad phoned his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman to express "Syria's standing by Lebanon against the heinous aggression launched by Israel on the Lebanese territories," according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.
After the initial fire, the border region was reported to be calm but tense, with UNIFIL saying it was working to keep the peace.
SURPRISING TO ISRAELIS
The Lebanese believe the incident was initiated by Israel and was premeditated, according to Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut.
"The Israelis might be trying to test the Lebanese resolve to confront them in the event of an all-out war with Hezbollah," the professor suggested.
Just weeks ago, Lebanon's army chief Jean Kahwaji warned that his troops would not stand by idly should there be an outbreak of hostilities.
Israel was probably surprised to see the Lebanese response when its soldiers entered the border territory, even though this had been done in coordination with UNIFIL, Khashan said on Tuesday.
On previous similar occasions the Lebanese have done nothing, so the Lebanese reaction this time will have been unexpected in Israel, he told Xinhua.
For Khashan, the incident does not reflect nervousness on both sides because "the Israelis are in control of the security situation," but he does believe that if anyone is on edge it is the Lebanese.
HEZBOLLAH'S SUSPECTED ROLE
Right after the clash, Hezbollah condemned "Israeli aggression, " and announced that the organization's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would be speaking on Tuesday evening.
Some Israeli analysts have been talking about the suspected role of the Lebanese military organization in the fresh incident.
The cross-frontier event was coordinated by Hezbollah, claimed retired Israeli officer Moshe Marzuk.
Hezbollah commanders in the region would have instructed Lebanese soldiers to open fire in Israel's direction, said Marzuk, now a researcher at the International Institute for Counterterrorism in Israel's Interdisciplinary Center.
This should not come as a surprise, he added, arguing that Hezbollah has for some time been in control of southern Lebanon.
The main motive for heating up the border right now is the imminent publication of the findings of the UN special tribunal set up in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Marzuk proffered.
It is understood that as a result of the inquiry, arrest warrants could be issued in the names of several members of Hezbollah. "Hezbollah wants to heat up the border to try to gain popular support before the report is published," said Marzuk.
Israel is firmly of the opinion that despite its best efforts during the 2006 military campaign, Hezbollah now possesses far more arms and of a higher quality than it did at the outbreak of the fighting.
Israel is not alone in noting this improvement. In his six- monthly reports to the UN Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701, which brought about the end of the 2006 war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points to what he sees as the import to Lebanon of weapons.
Many analysts hold the view that a big scale military conflict is not in the interests of both Israel and Hezbollah at the present time.
However, Marzuk believes that Tuesday's incident is not the last of this type and that means the deaths announced on both sides of the frontier will likely not be the last.