Assistance already delivered
The ghosts of Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006 hang over Gaza's battlegrounds. Omayma Abdel-Latif
writes from Beirut on Hizbullah's options
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A Palestinian man holds his child during a candlelit vigil in support of Gaza in the West Bank city of Ramallah
As the Israeli onslaught on Gaza ends its second week with no sign of a ceasefire agreement near, Israel seems to be fighting another adversary, albeit not so visible -- the memory of its humiliation at the hands of Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon in July 2006.
One of the declared goals of the latest round of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza was to make sure that "Hamas does not become another Hizbullah". Israel does not want Hamas to develop a deterrent capability that could change the rules of the game, as Hizbullah did in Lebanon. Israel's onslaught in Gaza has been largely shaped by what Israeli commentators say are lessons learnt from the 2006 war.
One of the pressing questions that Israeli analysts and commentators are grappling with is Hizbullah's intentions and whether or not it will intervene militarily to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Despite assurances from Israel's defence minister that the military was "monitoring the sensitive situation in the northern border and was ready to face any unwarranted development", fears have been growing of a possible attack launched from Lebanese soil giving Israel justification to launch another war on Lebanon.
All parties concerned -- UNIFIL, the resistance and the Lebanese army -- are on full alert. Hizbullah, especially, is watching closely the unfolding events in Gaza. The battle, in the words of Mohamed Raad, head of the resistance movement's parliamentarian bloc, is "an extension of the July war". Hizbullah's leadership confirms that the resistance has taken all necessary precautions in case Israel seeks to open another frontline on its northern borders.
On the second day of the Israeli onslaught, in a speech commemorating Ashoura (a 10-day mourning period honouring the memory of Hussein, the prophet's grandson) Hizbullah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah disclosed that orders were given to Hizbullah fighters to remain vigilant and alert because "Israel might make use of the opportunity of a power vacuum in the US and the complacency of so-called moderate Arab regimes to launch an attack against Lebanon to restore its deterrent image." Nasrallah dismissed allegations that Hizbullah was behind eight missiles discovered in the south and ready to launch against Israel.
There are a number of reasons why Hizbullah is unlikely to initiate an attack. For some, the resistance movement appears crippled by domestic calculations. Lebanon is six months away from crucial parliamentary elections. Hizbullah, along with other opposition forces in Lebanon, is striving to tilt the balance in its favour and take hold of the majority of parliament and government. Secondly, Lebanon -- and particularly the south -- has not fully recovered from the destructive fallout of the July 2006 war. Also, the polarisation that divided Lebanon sharply during the recent years is very much in place, denying Hizbullah political cover for military action. While the Doha Agreement of May 2008 ended outright conflict, it nonetheless failed to end the animosity felt among Lebanon's political rivals.
For Lebanon, events in Gaza could not be more timely, with political leaders haggling over which defence strategy to adopt to face any future Israeli threat. While consensus seems a far stretch, Israel's atrocities in Gaza will no doubt boost the opposition led by Hizbullah that wants the resistance to keep its arms as the only deterrent Lebanon has in the face of a ruthless Israeli war machine.
For those reasons, military intervention by Hizbullah is unlikely, although it cannot be ruled out. The party, most agree, will steer clear of any action that could be seen as provoking Israel into launching a new war on Lebanon. That is not to say that Israel needed to be provoked to launch wars in the past. But this time round, Hizbullah is intent on not giving the Israelis any justification to expand their circle of aggression to include Lebanon. Hizbullah wants future military action to be defensive, so as to restore the domestic support it enjoyed and that eroded during the past two years of political conflict in Lebanon.
In sum, Hizbullah understands the present battle as one of the Palestinian resistance forces. It is a battle that has been long coming. "People keep asking: What will Hizbullah do to assist Hamas and the Palestinians? But what they do not know is that the assistance has been already delivered and we are witnessing the results now," a source close to Hizbullah explained. Hamas's present show of force and its skilled fighting capabilities and upgraded arsenal are, in large part, thanks to the Lebanese resistance movement.
Hizbullah views the war on Hamas as part of the wider war on resistance and those who embrace it. A Hamas victory will no doubt boost resistance movements across the Arab world and will deal a fatal blow to the US-led axis of moderates.