A few months back I received some e-mail from Middle Eastern sources which argued that a military build-up on Israel's northern border meant preparations for a new war between Israel, Hezbollah/Lebanon and perhaps even Syria. At the time, the idea, after such pointless bloodletting in 2006 and the clear distaste among the Israeli public for a reoccupation in southern Lebanon, seemed completely far-fetched. Now, after a tree-cutting expedition provoked a major border incident between Israeli Defense Forces and Lebanese regulars, it seems prescient.
There is a point where such projections become self-propelling, i.e., Hezbollah prepares for an assault so much that it provokes an IDF buildup which encourages more arms-seeking across the border which compels great preparation on the Israeli side. You get the idea. After such a self-perpetuating swirl of war-prepping, it doesn't take much, a wrong turn, a small verbal confrontation that escalates into a minor firefight, to provide the spark to the tinder of a more devastating conflict. It will take adroit diplomacy from the U.N. and U.S. State Department to get everyone's finger off the trigger.
Let's hope they are up to the task.
With so much dangerous rhetoric and resentment haunting the region—and a recent spate of provocations—there is little that seems far-fetched anymore. Is it too hard to imagine a new war with Hezbollah drawing Syria and Iran into the conflict? And then is it completely deranged to imagine that Israel will turn to its only ally for more than just material and diplomatic support in such an escalating conflict? Let's trim our trees with care in the coming weeks.
Haaretz notes in an editorial today ("Restraint is not weakness"): "The government and the IDF have for several months been preparing the Israeli public for the possibility of a war in the north. They are aware of the tremendous political tension in Lebanon, of the struggle Hezbollah is waging against accusations of murdering former prime minister Rafik Hariri more than five years ago, and of the massive diplomatic effort by Saudi Arabia to steady the situation in Lebanon.
"This awareness should have led the government and the IDF to consider more carefully when to cut down a tree near the border. Operation Exposure, as the army is calling the tree cutting, may be necessary to give IDF troops a good view of what is happening in Lebanese territory, but when such an operation can trigger a war, the benefits must be weighed against the risks.... The government and the IDF must understand that not every time is right for demonstrating Israeli sovereignty right up to the last millimeter, certainly not when tension is rising on both sides of the border. Employing restraint and waiting at such a time are not an expression of weakness, but of wisdom and political sensitivity."