Lebanese troops opened mortar-RPG fire on Israeli troops Tuesday, Aug. 3. Israeli tanks returned the fire. Lebanese and Israeli helicopters then took to the skies as the border tensions of recent weeks exploded into action. Lebanon reported two people injured and two houses set on fire in Adaissa village by Israeli shells.
Israeli military sources are checking to see if the Lebanese soldiers were in fact Hizballah gunmen in Lebanese army uniform, the first response to a decision by Syrian president Bashar Assad, reported by debkafile, to jilt Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah and switch his support to the Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri. With Assad it is hard to tell if this is a real change of direction or a temporary gambit, but its impact is already far-reaching.
debkafile reported earlier:
It enables Hariri to stand fast against Nasrallah's brutal harassment to force him to withdraw Beirut's endorsement of the international tribunal investigating the five-year old assassination of the prime minster's father, Rafiq Hariri.
After the court indicted senior Hizballah operatives in the murder last month, its leader warned Hariri that his refusal to dismantle the tribunal would plunge Lebanon into another civil war and/or military showdown with Israel.
While still backing Hizballah verbally, the Syrian ruler has made it clear that, in practice, the Lebanese Shiite terrorists no longer enjoy his support – without, however, indicating where he would stand in another Hizballah conflict with Israel. Assad most certainly breathed a deep sigh of relief when the finger of guilt for the Hariri assassination turned away from his regime to Hizballah.
debkafile's Iranian sources report that Tehran has not so far questioned its Syrian ally's decision to pull the carpet from under its most important proxy – partly to see if it is a lasting policy shift or a temporary maneuver, but also because if, proven irreversible, it would confront Iranian leaders with a major strategic headache.
To salvage their own prestige, they would have to bolster Hassan Nasrallah against the loss of face and standing both of himself and his movement, after being ditched by Assad and deprived of Syria's political and military support. Hizballah would also have lost its contiguous land link to its bosses in Tehran.
Assad's apparent change of heart, dating as recently as Friday, July 30 – when he and Saudi King Abdullah cemented it by visiting Beirut hand in hand – has got Israel worried. Driven into a corner by the loss of Syrian backing, on the one hand, and the court subpoenas on the way to top Hizballah operatives accused of complicity in the Hariri murder, he is desperate for options to extricate himself.
One would be to inflame the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Washington, Jerusalem and other Middle East capital were therefore agog for Hizballah leader Nasrallah's next peroration scheduled for Tuesday night Aug. 3 to see which way the wind is blowing from that direction.
He may opt for putting his best face on Assad's turnabout for the moment, while gradually eroding it by craft or, alternatively, take up arms and fight back.
For military action, he would need a green light from Tehran.
Our Washington sources report that King Abdullah's stratagem for prying the Syrian ruler away from the Lebanese Shiite group was approved by President Barack Obama when they meet at the White House on June 29. It was one brick in a comprehensive policy edifice also encompassing joint US-Saudi initiatives for Iran, Iraq and the Palestinian issue, which was extensively covered in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 455 of July 31, 2010.