Syria plays Hizbollah peace 'card': Israel's low-key response to death of nine soldiers signals new 'rules of the game' in southern Lebanon

AS THE death toll from the Hizbollah bombing of an Israeli patrol in southern Lebanon rose yesterday to nine, the political and military significance of the attack - and of Israel's muted response - was becoming clear. The deaths dispel any claims that Syria had been persuaded to curb the power of the pro-Iranian Islamic militant group, or give them up as a 'card' to be played in the peace process.

Last month Israel launched a massive bombardment of Lebanon, largely in order to persuade Syria to abandon Hizbollah. In the ceasefire deal that ended the conflict, Israel expressed the hope that Damascus would sever its links with the pro-Iranian group, which operates in southern Lebanon to resist Israel's occupation of a buffer strip on south Lebanese land which Israel calls its 'security zone'.

Syria infuriates Israel by using the Hizbollah militants as a card in the peace process. By stirring up the Hizbollah attacks on Israeli targets from time to time, Syria believes it is in a stronger position to gain concessions from Israel over the Golan Heights, which it wants back. This week's successful Hizbollah action suggests Syria is determined to keep the Hizbollah card in its hand. When the peace talks resume, therefore, the Israeli-Syrian discussions will surely take up their old tracks.

Israel's uncharacteristically low-key response to the deaths suggests, however, that some familiar south Lebanon patterns may have changed.

Normally such an attack would be met, at least, by shelling of Hizbollah strongholds in the villages of the south Lebanon. It would also provoke dire warnings of mass retaliation, megaphoned around the Middle East - or by mass retaliation itself, as happened last month.

Instead Israel this time limited its response to a brief bombing raid in the Bekaa Valley, and restrained comments. There was no shelling of villages. The main reason was given yesterday by the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who said the deaths of the nine soldiers were 'within the new rules of the game' which Israel agreed with Hizbollah, after last month's conflict. The deaths did not breach the ceasefire deal, under which, the Prime Minister appeared to admit, Israel had given up a wide range of military options. The question being asked in Israel yesterday was - if this was the case - was the ceasefire deal not a bad one for Israel, left looking as if its hands have been tied?

It has always been understood that, under the new 'rules of the game' set out in the ceasefire deal, Israel must have agreed to some limits to its actions in southern Lebanon in return for the limited agreement won from the Hizbollah. The Islamic group agreed to stop firing rockets into Israel proper but did not agree to stop attacking the 'security zone'.

In return for quiet in its northern settlements, however, Israel appears to have agreed not to fire at Hizbollah villages - even when the security zone is attacked. Hence yesterday's stunning quiet.

According to military analysts, Israel will not be able to keep to these new rules if many more soldiers are killed in the security zone. 'To fine- tune its response, Israel can keep to the new rules of the game for now. But when the deaths in the security zone reach a new critical mass, the rules will have to be broken. Public opinion will demand it,' said Joseph Alpher, director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies.

For the time being, there is little enthusiasm for another invasion.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end