Nobody wants war, but Israel-Lebanon border is heating up

Haaretz (Link) - Amos Harel (May 12, 2010)

After several welcome weeks of calm, chatter about the northern border and the eastern front has resumed.

A synopsis of the declarations of the past 48 hours: The prime minister accused Iran of trying to provoke war between Syria and Israel; the minister for strategic affairs reiterated that a military option exists against Iran�s nuclear program; Iran�s parliamentary speaker threatened a �final and decisive war� against Israel; Lebanon�s prime minister expressed support for Hezbollah�s right to have Scud missiles in its arsenal; Syria�s president warned of �the demise of the peace process;� and Russia�s president, visiting Damascus, said he fears a catastrophe in the region.

A conflagration in the north sometime in the near future could result from one of three developments: escalation between Israel and Iran over the latter�s nuclear program; Hezbollah�s efforts to exact revenge for the 2008 killing of senior operative Imad Mughniyeh; or an Israeli attack on an arms convoy from Syria to Hezbollah.

But developments on the Iranian front depend on the results of the American initiative to impose stricter sanctions, which is expected to be discussed at the Security Council only next month. And all attempts by Hezbollah to strike at Israeli targets abroad have so far failed.

Thus most of the tension over the past two months has centered on the third issue: Israel�s concern about the transfer of Scuds and advanced Syrian M-600 rockets to Hezbollah.

Concern over a possible confrontation in the north, in view of Hezbollah�s growing strength, is becoming an international issue.

Now, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has joined the effort to restrain Syria and Hezbollah and thereby avoid war.

But since neither Israel, Syria nor Hezbollah seem to have any interest in a clash this summer, it may be that news of the missile transfers was actually released to diminish the chances of war.

All this is also understood by the Syrians. The question is how they interpret Benjamin Netanyahu�s observation of a reservist training exercise in Northern Command yesterday.

The Israel Defense Forces says the visit was planned well in advance. But the other side might conclude the opposite.

Earlier this year, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak told senior officers that peace with Syria is vital and warned against another war, Syria suspected that his statements actually hinted at plans for an Israeli offensive - and therefore raised its forces� alert level.