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Israel concerned about possible fallout from Lebanon government split

As regional efforts to mediate Lebanon's political standoff fail, Israelis nervously watch their border with Lebanon and wonder whether potential violence will spread to Israel.

By Correspondent / January 20, 2011

Israeli soldiers on patrol along the Israel-Lebanon border, near Dovev in the upper Galilee region, Jan. 13. Israeli troops in the north were on alert last week over worries that the political turmoil in Lebanon might spill over the Israel-Lebanon border, following the collapse of the Lebanese government.

Yaron Kaminsky/AP


Tel Aviv

The Lebanese political crisis, triggered by Hezbollah's departure from government last week, has Israel worried that the situation could become violent and spill over the Israel-Lebanon border.

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Regional efforts to mediate between Prime Minister Saad Hariri's bloc and the Hezbollah-led opposition failed today, with Turkey and Qatar giving up a day after Saudi Arabia pulled out.

The divide focuses mainly on whether Lebanon should participate in a United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik. The tribunal's first indictments are expected to target several members of Hezbollah, which has threatened to retaliate.

Israel is concerned that Hezbollah, which fought Israeli troops to a stand-still in a brief 2006 war, might stir tensions along the border in order to prove it is an indispensable line of defense against Israel – and thus gain the upper hand in the domestic stand-off.

"People are worried that things could get out of control,’’ says Eyal Zisser, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, "and that Hezbollah will want to divert attention from domestic problems in Lebanon, and the result will be an escalation on the border.’’

Israel unsure how to respond

The political maneuvering between Mr. Hariri, a Sunni politician backed by Saudi Arabia, and the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah is seen as highly combustible, because it is in effect a proxy battle between the allies of Western powers and those of Iran.

Israelis, still scarred by the toll of invading Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, see the sectarian tensions of its northern neighbor as a powder keg that could be exploited by Hezbollah and draw Israel into conflict again. Israeli leaders have portrayed the Iranian-backed Hezbollah as a forward command for Tehran, which could use the militia to fight a proxy war against its "Zionist enemy."


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