x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Israel-Lebanon tensions a 'media storm'?

Amid heightened tensions between Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon's President Suleiman has called for the swift formation of a national unity government, while Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose earlier remarks helped fuel some of the tension, now says that this is "a storm created by the media". Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned on Monday: "If one hair of any Israeli diplomat or tourist is harmed anywhere in the world, then Hizbollah and the Lebanese government will be responsible for the severe consequences."

Amid heightened tensions between Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon's President Suleiman has called for the swift formation of a national unity government, while Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose earlier remarks helped fuel some of the tension, now says that this is "a storm created by the media". Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned on Monday: "If one hair of any Israeli diplomat or tourist is harmed anywhere in the world, then Hezbollah and the Lebanese government will be responsible for the severe consequences." Reuters reported: "Lebanon's president on Tuesday urged the quick formation of a unity government as a response to 'threats' from Israel, which has said it will hold the country responsible for any attack by the guerrilla group Hizbollah. "Israeli officials have directed a series of warnings at Lebanon and Hizbollah in recent days, while the Iranian-backed Shiite movement, which is expected to be part of the next cabinet, has also threatened Israel in spiralling rhetoric that has triggered speculation of war. " 'The near daily, repeated Israeli threats ... require us to work seriously to secure the internal ranks and accelerate the formation of the national unity government,' Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman said on Tuesday, according to a statement from his office." The Jerusalem Post said: "While Israel is prepared for all emerging threats in the Middle East - including Hizbollah, and Iran's nuclear programme - there are 'no winds of war blowing' along the northern border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday during a visit to the Hatzerim Air Force Base, east of Beersheba. "Netanyahu was accompanied by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi and IAF commander Maj-Gen Ido Nehushtan. " 'We do not see anything special up there,' Netanyahu told reporters. 'There are no winds of war blowing. This is a storm created by the media.' "The prime minister's calming remarks came a day after he warned Lebanon that it would pay a heavy price if Hizbollah attacked Israel." The day before, The Jerusalem Post had reported: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Beirut on Monday that if Hizbollah becomes an official member of Lebanon's government, 'we will hold the government accountable for any aggression against Israel coming out of its territory.' "Speaking to evacuees from the Gaza periphery in the Lakhish region, Netanyahu said 'the sovereign government of Lebanon would be responsible' for any violent action against Israel, adding that 'I hope we don't come to that'. "However, Netanyahu said current tensions between Israel and Hizbollah was not likely to spill over into violence." Haaretz reported: "Deputy Hizbollah leader Sheikh Naeem Kassem said on Tuesday that his militant group was prepared to fight off any Israeli attack on Lebanese territory. "Kassem told Al-Manar television that the Lebanon-based movement saw Israeli 'threats' as bluff, but that it was on full alert for war. "Israeli officials have directed a series of warnings at Lebanon and Hizbollah in recent days, while the Iranian-backed Shi'ite movement, which is expected to be part of the next cabinet, has also threatened Israel in spiralling rhetoric that has triggered speculation of war." Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Tuesday: "Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon yesterday issued direct threats to Hizbollah and Lebanon's government and Ayalon warned: "If one hair of any Israeli diplomat or tourist is harmed anywhere in the world, then Hizbollah and the Lebanese government will be responsible for the severe consequences.' But Hizbollah downplayed the seriousness of these threats and its Deputy Nawaf al-Musawi said Israel would not be implementing these threats. "Despite the Israeli escalation, Hizbollah is ruling out an Israeli war this year and its Deputy Nawaf al-Musawi told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday: 'Israel did not launch a war after 1956 except at the request, decision, or approval of the United States and therefore all Israeli wars are ones of American decisions and this raises the following question: Is US President Barack Obama about to launch war during the first year of his presidency?' Al-Musawi 'ruled out this possibility, but one needs to act according to the Israeli threats.' He added that 'Israel's threats and messages to the Lebanese people and its psychological war against them are aimed at avoiding being asked to leave the northern part of Al-Ghajar village, the Shaba Farms, and Kafr Shuba hills. The Israelis rush forward to contain the pressures exerted on them.' " The Daily Star in Beirut said: "Despite escalating Israeli rhetoric, a summer war between Israel and Hizbollah appears extremely unlikely, but failures in a US push for regional peace and in negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme could well presage a new conflict here, a number of analysts told The Daily Star on Friday. "Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday said his country could not accept the participation of an armed militia such as Hizbollah in Lebanon's cabinet, adding that Israel must ensure that Hizbollah does not obtain certain types of weapons and Israel would use all necessary force in any new conflict in Lebanon. "According to Paul Salem, the head of the Carnegie Middle East Center, Hizbollah clearly doesn't want renewed violence, while in reality Israel will have to give a chance to an imminent Middle East peace plan being drawn up by its indispensable patron the United States. "US President Barack Obama 'will come up with a major peace initiative in the next couple of months. He wants peace done in 12 to 18 months, signed,' Salem said. " 'It's very clear that Obama is going to be given a big chance to launch a peace initiative. There will be no wars in the region launched by Israel between now and the end of the year.' "In the view of retired General Elias Hanna, who teaches political science at Notre Dame University, Israel must have US approval to start any hostilities against Lebanon, and Obama will not assent to any attack to scuttle his peace plan and ongoing US efforts to court Syria away from its alliance with Iran." In an editorial, The Daily Star said: "Worrying noises continue to emanate from the south of Lebanon. Whether they're from Israeli politicians, top intelligence figures, or the Israeli military itself, the message is generally the same: watch out for Hizbollah 'terror'. Hizbollah's weapons might inflict damage on Israel, so watch out. If the Lebanese government doesn't do x or y, then watch out. "From all of this uproar, one might conclude that the July 2006 war didn't happen, that massive destruction wasn't unleashed on Lebanon and its people, in the latest bid to destroy the 'dangerous enemy' and punish its supposed enablers. One might think the 1996 'Grapes of Wrath' offensive didn't happen, when Israel held an entire civilian population responsible for the existence of a resistance movement that was trying to eject a foreign occupation. One might think the Israelis didn't withdraw their troops from almost all of Lebanon in 2000, since the rhetoric has remained the same. One might think that the July 1993 offensive didn't happen, when again, Israel rolled out its latest war-to-end-all-wars, 'Operation Accountability'. "The same, stale, warmongering rhetoric continues today. It's astounding to think that Israeli politicians have learned nothing about how to deal with their northern front, so perhaps we should conclude that Israeli leaders are up to something. "Why all of the saber-rattling? Hizbollah has been there in the past. What's new about Hizbollah today in terms of a situation that Israel itself didn't help aggravate? Israeli leaders behave as if Hizbollah appeared out of thin air, as if there are no grievances involved, as if their military aircraft don't treat our country like a place for pilot training and target practice. "This newspaper has issued the warning before, about the possibility of Israel's quest to derail the Obama agenda, whether for actual foreign policy reasons, or reasons of domestic political survival."

pwoodward@thenational.ae