Rocket fire from Lebanon: a second front for Israel?
Hezbollah denies firing three rockets Thursday. Israeli officials blame Al Qaeda militants.
Nahariya, Israel; and Beirut, Lebanon
With the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza continuing to rage and truce talks still far from bearing fruit, a militant group in Lebanon raised the possibility of opening a new front in the war Thursday.Skip to next paragraph
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Three Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon, one of them hitting a nursing home in the northern city of Nahariya, Israel, injuring two people.
Israel responded immediately with five artillery shells, which a military spokesman said was "a pinpoint response at the source of fire."
Neither Israel nor Hezbollah in Lebanon want another war, say analysts. But that doesn't mean that Hezbollah – or its allies – won't launch small attacks on Israel or target Israeli aircraft over Lebanon, they say.
Israeli officials were reluctant to declare this the opening of another front, given that the rockets may have been fired by a pro-Palestinian militant group, but not by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Still, the devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah – and by default, all of Lebanon – hangs like a specter over the current fighting and is serving as both a model and an obstacle to reaching a cease-fire with Hamas.
"The first assumption is that it's not Hezbollah, it's global jihadists, groups much more connected with Al Qaeda," says Col. (Res.) Miri Eisin, a spokesperson for the Israeli government. "We're talking about a group that doesn't care about Lebanon or its politics, but uses it as a base, the way other militants do with Afghanistan or Iraq."
"That's part of the challenge," she adds. "Distinguishing between isolated incidents and opening a second front." She points out that just 10 days ago, the Lebanese government dismantled eight rockets it found aimed at Israel, indicating its intent to keep up its commitments to stop rocket fire from its territory.
Lebanon launched an investigation into the rocket attack, an act that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called a breach of a United Nations resolution that helped end the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's militant Shiite Hezbollah.
In southern Lebanon, schools were closed and Lebanese troops searched vehicles at checkpoints and scoured remote valleys near the border with Israel.
Hezbollah and Palestinian groups denied responsibility for the rocket salvo. "When Hezbollah does something, it announces it and has no problem doing so," says Mohammed Fneish, minister of labor in Lebanon's national unity government who is also a Hezbollah lawmaker.
Suspicion has fallen on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which is based in Damascus, Syria, and is an ally of Hezbollah.
Hamzi Bishtawi, a PFLP-GC official in Beirut, says his group was not involved, but it supported the attack. "We do not condemn any action against Israel," he says. "We are always with the jihadists that attack Israel."
If Hezbollah didn't fire the rockets, did it supply them? After decades of conflict, there is no shortage of Katyusha-style rockets in Lebanon. The identity of the perpetrators could indicate whether Hezbollah was aware of the rocket attack beforehand and possibly gave it tacit blessing. Some Palestinian militant groups, such as the PFLP-GC, are allies of Hezbollah and would be unlikely to launch an attack on Israel without at least obtaining prior approval from Hezbollah and Syria.