Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hezbollah Captures 2 Israeli Soldiers, as Tensions Mount

Last week I reported the optimism I had in seeing most of Palestine’s Islamic allies not backing Hamas capture of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. I spoke of being at a crossroads, and the promise that was being shown as we moved through it.  But I also mentioned that tumultuous times are seen as we pass through the crossroads, and we are seeing them today!

Hezbollah, which operates out of Lebanon and Syria, is a terrorist organization backed by the Syrian and Iranian governments. Over the years, most of their attacks on Israel have occurred from war-torn Lebanon, whose government is largely influenced by Syria.  With the jungle-border between Lebanon and Israel and Syria’s lack of caring for the people of Lebanon, Hezbollah has found Lebanon a convenient launching ground for attacks against Eretz Yisrael.  

And we are about to see the same today, as Hezbollah has escalated the crisis over captured soldier Shalit by capturing two more soldiers in Lebanon, a country which Israel had been at war with since the early 1980s and withdrew from in May 2000.  Already, Israeli troops have invaded the country, in an attempt to prevent the soldiers from being moved too far north, but suspicions are that the soldiers have already been moved to Beirut.

This is a volatile situation. Having dug their heels in over Shalit, Israel cannot simply back down over the two soldiers, as yet unnamed, in Lebanon.  But finding the soldiers in Lebanon will be no easy feat, and performing the type of operation in a country where Israel has already fought one jungle-war will be far more complicated than find Shalit in Gaza.  And the clock is ticking; if these soldiers do make it north of Beirut, Israel will only find them through an all-out invasion of Lebanon, a dangerous mission.

Already, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is ready to unleash the dogs of war.  He has called for an end to restraint against Hezbollah, which has been far less active in the past few years, and has also said that Lebanon itself should be made to “pay a heavy price” for their role in the capture of the Israeli soldiers.  Thousands of reserve infantrymen have been called up and ordered to the Lebanese border, and residents of the towns bordering Lebanon have been told to move into their bomb shelters.

Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, has called this an “act of war” by Lebanon.

"The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to shake regional stability," he said at a press conference in Jerusalem. "We are already responding with great strength," he said, threatening "very painful and far-reaching" action. "There are people ... who are trying to test our resolve. They will fail and they will pay a heavy price for their actions."

Hamas and Hezbollah inside Lebanon see the capture as an unmitigated victory against Israel.  They indicate the two groups will cooperate to force Israel to release prisoners from the Israeli jails.  Simultaneously, residents of south Beirut, home of Hezbollah, fired guns in the air and set of firecrackers for over an hour when they heard of the capture of Israeli soldiers.

"We have proven to this enemy (Israel) that the one option is the release of Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab captives. All captives, without exception," Osama Hamdan, Hamas' spokesman in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera television.

And Hezbollah released this statement to Al-Jazeera, indicating that they saw, as I indicated earlier this week, that Israel’s success in Gaza gave them no incentive to negotiate for the freedom of captured Palestinians:

"In order to fulfil a promise to free the prisoners and detainees, the Islamic Resistance captured at 9:05am [0605 GMT] two Israeli soldiers at the borders with occupied Palestine," Hezbollah said referring to its military wing.

"The two prisoners were moved to a safe place," it said. The Syria-backed group "expressed readiness to start a process of negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal with Israel", a Lebanese political source said.

This is a huge escalation in the present conflict. Of course this is partially because Israel now is beginning to feel the sting of their operations to rescue Shalit, where before they acted with relative impunity.  But primarily this is an escalation because we know Israel will not, and should not, let this action go by without retribution, and retribution in this case equals an invasion of Lebanon.

I pray for the return of the recently captured Israeli soldiers as I do for Shalit.  But I also pray that this doesn’t escalate out of control, as these moves could lead to a the type of conflict in Lebanon we were thankful to leave behind in May of 2000.

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Posted by Scottage at 11:02 AM / | |