All day Monday, Washington leaned heavily on Israel’s government and military leaders to hold back from a military strike to punish the Lebanese hands behind the shooting dead of Navy Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen Sunday, Dec. 15. The Obama administration was anxious to avert a major flare-up that might jeopardize its plans for dealing with the Syrian war in cooperation with Tehran.
However, early Tuesday, an audacious bomb-car attack close to a main Hizballah base in the Beqaa Valley of eastern Lebanon demonstrated that the Syrian-Lebanese arena was out of US control.
Hizballah will now be trying to figure out how to even the score against the Middle East intelligence agencies conducting a relentless covert war on Hizballah facilities and leaders as well as Iranian targets, which seemingly know every last detail of their whereabouts and movements.
They suspect the Saudis of spearheading this war, but Tuesday, a Hizballah lawmaker accused Israel of orchestrating a wave of attacks in Lebanon, including the Baalbek bomb blast, with the aid of “local sleeper cells. “
The group reported two injured from the blast, but witnesses attested to several casualties including fatalities and vehicles catching fire.
Tehran’s Lebanese surrogate is forced to accept that it is not safe from its omniscient enemies in any of its strongholds, whether in Beirut or the Beqaa Valley.
Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was concerned enough last week to pay a secret trip to Tehran, revealed here exclusively for the first time by debkafile’s Iranian and military sources.
He discussed with his Iranian masters the urgent need to avenge the wave of attacks besetting them in Lebanon. The Iranians are still fuming over the twin suicide attack on their Beirut embassy on Nov. 18, which left 23 dead, including their cultural attaché and security guards, and 146 injured.
Two weeks later, a three-man assassination squad shot dead at close range in Beirut a top Hizballah operative Hassan al-Laqqis, who was in the middle of preparing a revenge hit for the embassy bombing.
This attack put Tehran and its Lebanese arm on the spot, because it meant that whoever was gunning for them was determined to keep going.
In this inflammatory atmosphere, Israel and Hizballah both decided to mass military strength on the Lebanese border immediately after the shooting in cold blood of Sgt. Cohen.
The IDF kept the extra units in place Monday to wait for intelligence input confirming or refuting Hizballah’s culpability for the murder of its soldier, possibly in revenge for suspected Israeli and Saudi attacks in Beirut; Hizballah kept its reinforced units on the border, taking it for granted that the IDF was bound to retaliate for its loss.
In Beirut, US ambassador David Hale went into action, first by persuading the government to say the Lebanese gunman who fired the shots was missing. This gambit bought President Michele Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati time to come up with the story that the soldier had acted on his own initiative, had subsequently been caught and would be put on trial.
debkafile reports that Israel decided to accept Beirut’s account of this episode, in response to US pressure – knowing, however, that it had not yet got to the bottom of what really happened.
Further episodes are most probably still to come in the light of the secret discussions Nasrallah held in Tehran.