The Obama Administration has clear opinions about Israeli housing developments, but is missing interesting developments in southern Lebanon.
Two weeks ago there was a large explosion in the Hezbollah-controlled village of Khirbet Slim, nine miles from the Israeli border. Kuwait’s A-Siyassa newspaper reported it was a “secret military outpost,” and said the explosion killed a number of Hezbollah members. As cited in The Jerusalem Post, A-Siyassa reported, “‘The geographical layout of the area where the outpost was situated, as well as its relative proximity to the border proves that it could not be an arms depot, but rather an outpost on the front lines,’ a military source defined as ‘credible’ told the paper.”
Shortly thereafter, UNIFIL personnel attempted to enter the nearby village of Bir e-Salasel to investigate the possibility of additional weapons. They were surrounded by dozens of men and ordered to leave. But when they tried, the road was blocked with burning tires and more than 100 residents threw rocks at the vehicles, injuring 14 UNIFIL soldiers. When they called for backup, the villagers fired at the reinforcements.
According to Ha’aretz, “Senior IDF officers believe that Hezbollah has completely rebuilt its network of bunkers and arms stockpiles in south Lebanon, but has located them almost entirely inside Shi’ite villages rather than in open areas, as it did sometimes in the past. The warehouse explosion [in Khirbet Slim] revealed this fact, and has prompted Hezbollah to worry that Israeli intelligence may know where its new bases are located.”
Hezbollah has always operated on the assumption that Israel would hesitate to attack inside villages for fear of causing civilian casualties, and couldn’t have helped noticing the international castigation of the IDF after Hamas used Palestinian human shields in Gaza while it was shelling Israeli civilians with ever longer-range and more precise rockets and missiles.
Three days after the munitions explosion, a group of 15 Lebanese civilians crossed the Blue Line into Israel, planting Hezbollah and Lebanese flags before crossing back. The IDF watched, but seeing there were children in the group, declined to stop them. Israel contented itself with a protest to the UN – which, for a change was coincident with a UNIFIL protest of Hezbollah’s behavior.
Hezbollah rhetoric is heating up as well. Hasan Nasrallah called Israel “a racist state… placed at the heart” of the Middle East by the rest of the world, and he demanded the release of a terrorist named Yahya Skaff, killed in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in Israel. Israel returned the body, but Nasrallah claims he is still alive in Israel.
The impossibility of meeting the demand suggests that Hezbollah is simply trying to boost its sagging fortunes (including an apparent inability to recruit foot soldiers on an acceptable scale) after its electoral losses in June. It may be escalating tensions with UNIFIL and Israel in hopes of ousting the former and goading the latter into retaliatory action that will bring down the wrath of the international community on Israel yet again.
Don’t be surprised.