Israel Finally Holds Winning Cards against Nasrallah

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizballah secretary general, is an old hand at twitching Israeli nerves by dangling offers of information on prisoners, MIAs and fallen troops on terms that Israel cannot accept. The Israeli machinery dealing with prisoner recovery then swings into action expecting little more than a sign of life. Even that has not been forthcoming in most cases. The Hizballah leader is therefore rated in Israel as a big, manipulative talker who enjoys discomfiting “the Zionists”.
Two weeks ago, Nasrallah set in motion a fresh cycle of hope, fueling top headlines in the Israeli media. This time, he talked about a real exchange – and not just scrappy information – of the bodies of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped in October 2000 and an Israeli civilian, Elhanan Tanenboim, who was snatched at the same time, in return for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinians seized on his words and began pumping out ever-spiraling figures.
Tuesday, September 23, Israeli negotiator Ilan Biran left for Berlin for another round of negotiations with the Hizballah through a German mediator. However, Israeli official sources refused to confirm Palestinian reports that he would negotiate the release of 400 Palestinian terrorists including the West Bank Tanzim commander Marwan Barghouti, who is on trial before an Israeli court for multiple terrorist murders. Any such releases must first be approved by the cabinet.
In Israel, when the first Hizballah statements began issuing earlier this month, the father of Benny Avraham, one of the three kidnapped soldiers, was asked if he had received confirmation from the Israeli authorities on the approaching return of his son’s remains. He replied hopelessly that he had heard nothing. All three, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Suweid, were formally pronounced fallen in action by the Israeli authorities, a determination that has not been universally accepted. Still pending is the fate of the Israeli air force navigator, Ron Arad, missing since he baled out over Lebanon 17 years ago.
debkafile has attempted to pin down the few facts buried in the morass of self-serving demagogy, posturing, misinformation and bombast clouding the affair. One of those facts is that Tanenboim is apparently alive as indicated by a tape reaching Israel. Its contents have not been disclosed and will most likely figure in the delicate exchanges already in progress between Israel and the Hizballah via mediator.
Nasrallah’s starting price though exorbitant is short of the Palestinian hyperbole. It reportedly includes Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Obeid, two former officers of Hizballah’s rival, the Lebanese Amal Shiite militia. Israeli forces abducted the pair around 15 years ago as bargaining chips for Ron Arad. However, the challenge was never taken up. The missing navigator was no longer in Lebanon. Dirani had sold him for cash to the Iranians.
The Hizballah list reportedly includes 19 Lebanese prisoners, 40 Palestinian and a group of other Arab captives for the three bodies, Tanenboim and a personal undertaking by Nasrallah to dig for information about the fate of Ron Arad.
This fresh chance of a real trade has come about – not because the Hizballah leader has changed his spots overnight, but because he is being squeezed by circumstances beyond his control. debkafile‘s intelligence sources reveal that a major political upheaval is in progress in Lebanon that has seriously diminished the Shiite terrorist group’s standing and bargaining capability. It consists of two major events:
1. The United States is in mid-ploy for dislodging Syria from its positions of influence in Lebanon. The two Lebanese figures to watch are prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the former president Michel Aoun.
2. Heads of important Shiite hawzas in Lebanon, including Hizballah’s spiritual leader Sayed Moh’d Hussein Fadlallah, have applied to depart Lebanon and relocate in the Iraqi Shiite holy towns of towns of Najef and Karbala.
debkafile‘s sources stress that the Lebanese clerics, far from being put off by the unrest in Iraq, are anxious to be part of what they regard as an epic process taking place between the Iraqi Shiite majority and the United States. This process is of pivotal importance in the global war on terror and future US relations with Islam. They see Iraq as the center of gravity of this important process and do not want to be shunted aside with Nasrallah and his terrorist group while it is fermenting.
The fulfillment of these two processes – by-products of the Iraqi war – threatens to leave the Hizballah marooned in the Lebanese backwater without Syrian protection and minus the spiritual backbone that elevated the organization to its unique standing in the Shiite world.
Nasrallah senses his comedown is near and knows he is left with two hard choices: Either launch a ferocious military-cum-terror assault on Israel – in defiance of the prohibition from the Syrian and Iranian rulers (“Help the Palestinians, but only from a distance,” he has been told by Tehran.); or jump aboard the US-backed bandwagon rushing to take over in Beirut. To do this, he must first disencumber himself of the Israeli prisoner issue which has become an impediment
Therefore, while the Israeli media cling to their habitual manner of presenting Nasrallah as holding the high ground on the prisoner issue, the truth is that the trump cards have landed in Israel’s hands – if only its leaders are canny enough to play them to advantage.

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