Syrians called to account: Charles Richards, Middle East Editor, explains the latest bout of violence in south Lebanon
In retaliation for attacks on Israeli targets that have killed more than eight Israelis this month there have been three days of the most intense bombardments by air, land and sea of Lebanese and Palestinian groups in Lebanon since Israel's ill-fated invasion in 1982. They were far more than an eye for an eye. The message is clear. Those who take up arms against the Israelis must pay a price for such impudence, and the Israeli war machine is now extracting it.
The main targets of the Israeli action have been bases of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, of Ahmed Jibril, and of the militant Lebanese Shia Muslim group, Hizbollah. Both are supported by Syria. And the Israelis are telling the Syrians: it is up to you to rein in these groups.
Hizbollah remain defiant. The secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, warned Israel yesterday that it would pay dearly for its offensive, saying his guerrillas would fight to the end. 'We tell Rabin he is illusioned (sic) if he thinks he can crush the Islamic resistance. We promise him he will pay a dear price,' the Sheikh said.
There is a curious symmetry in Israel's action with its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Then the declared aim was to secure peace for the northern settlements of Israel from attacks by armed Palestinians. The current operation is designed to uproot Hizbollah from southern Lebanon. But Hizbollah is different from the Palestinian groups. It is above all Lebanese, and forms the bulk of Lebanon's resistance against Israel's presence there.
Israel has maintained a military presence along a strip to protect its northern boundary (the 1949 armistice line with Lebanon) since its first limited incursion in 1978. After its withdrawal following the second, 1982 invasion, it again kept control of a chunk of Lebanese territory, which it called its security zone, protected by the South Lebanon Army (SLA). This is a militia trained, paid and controlled by Israel.
The Israelis maintain that the 'security zone' is a necessary buffer to protect Israel from attack from armed groups. The SLA in effect act as human sandbags. Critics, namely the international community, and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) argue that the continued Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon itself has provoked the Lebanese resistance which has led to the spate of recent attacks. Whether the 'security zone' absorbs fire, or draws it, is a subject of debate. It has not eliminated all attacks on Israel's northern flank. But Israeli strategists are convinced it has contained them.
Israel says it is mounting a punitive operation to retaliate for attacks on settlements in northern Israel. But the violence began on 8 July when PFLP-GC gunmen killed two Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon. In the following days, Hizbollah fighters killed more Israeli troops, in what they regard as legitimate acts of resistance. Israeli warplanes counterattacked, and in response Hizbollah fired Katyusha rockets on Israel proper. These prompted the Israeli retaliation.
According to some perverse Levantine logic, the recent attacks by Syria-backed groups in Lebanon on Israeli targets might actually demonstrate Syria's commitment to the peace process. Syria has never seen a contradiction, in talking peace with the Israelis in Washington and permitting or encouraging attacks on Israeli targets by groups under its writ. Rather, allowing such attacks improves Syria's negotiating position. If the talks are going badly, Syria will demonstrate that it can exercise military alternatives.
But the attacks are not meant to sabotage the peace process. The potential gains of a settlement for both sides are too great. Syria and Israel want a broad agreement to assure their security needs. By the standards of Middle East wars, this violent cycle is merely a bloody skirmish. The violence is a symptom of frustrated hopes in the peace process, not a cause of them.
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 4 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Amanda Knox murder conviction: Italian court overturns verdict for US student and Raffaele Sollecito in the killing of Meredith Kercher
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
#FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...