Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hisballah: Baiting the Hook

Earlier today, Hisballah operatives from southern Lebanon crossed into northern Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and taking two as prisoner. Israel reacted quickly, launching airstrikes against bridges and other infrastructure in southern Lebanon, and sending Israeli troops into Lebanon in search of the captured soldiers. Israeli army chief Lt. Gen Dan Halutz was quoted as threatening to "turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 years" if the soldiers are not released.

The capturing of these Israeli soldiers seems to me like Hizballah baiting the hook. Over the past several days, they've observed the disproportionate reaction Israel has had to Palestinian militants capturing one Israeli soldier. Hisballah leaders likely thought to themselves, "if they'd do all that over one soldier, one can imagine what they'd do if we captured two."

Hizballah has a few reasons for wanting to goad Israel into invading Lebanon: most notably, pulling Israel into a wider conflict with Syria, and perhaps Iran also. From Hizballah's perspective, the timing of such a conflict could not be much better:
  • Israel's closest ally, the United States, is already tied up in another conflict in Iraq.
  • Israel's forces are already involved in an incursion in the Gaza Strip.
  • Syria, Hizballah's major sponsor, was pressured to remove the bulk of its security forces from Lebanon just a year ago. Helping Lebanon fight off an Israeli incursion would provide Syria a convenient excuse to send its forces back in.
  • Iran, Syria's other major sponsor, has elected a hardline president who has been calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" for months, and is perhaps looking for an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.

Unfortunately, if Hizballah was baiting the hook this morning, Israel was biting it this afternoon, with its cabinet authorizing "severe" retaliation against Lebanon. In doing so, Israel is playing straight into Hizballah's plan.

Prospects for peace in that part of the Middle East are really not looking good tonight. I just hope this violence does not spiral into a more widespread conflict.