Israel and Hizbullah signal their flare-up is over

Two Israeli troops and a Spanish peacekeeper killed in incidents on Wednesday

Israeli soldiers mourn during the  funeral of a colleague killed in a clash on the Lebanese border at Mount Hertzel cemetery in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA.

Israeli soldiers mourn during the funeral of a colleague killed in a clash on the Lebanese border at Mount Hertzel cemetery in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA.

 

Israel and Hizbullah have signalled that a rare flare-up in fighting across the Israel-Lebanon border is over, after the Lebanese guerrillas killed two Israeli troops in retaliation for a deadly air strike in Syria last week.

Israel said it had received a message from UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, that Hizbullah was not interested in further escalation.

In Beirut, a Lebanese source briefed on the situation said Israel informed Hizbullah via UNIFIL “that it will make do with what happened yesterday and it does not want the battle to expand”.

Asked on Israel’s Army Radio if Hizbullah had sought to de-escalate, defence minister Moshe Yaalon said: “There are lines of coordination between us and Lebanon via UNIFIL and such a message was indeed received from Lebanon.”

Guided missiles

A salvo of Hizbullah guided missiles killed an Israeli infantry major and a conscript soldier as they rode in unmarked civilian vehicles along the Lebanese border on Wednesday.

Israel then launched an artillery and air barrage, and a Spanish peacekeeper was killed. Spain’s ambassador to the UN blamed the Israeli fire for the death of Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, who was 36-years-old and from Malaga. Israel said on Thursday that its deputy foreign minister met the ambassador to voice regret at the death and promise an inquiry.

Wednesday’s clash was one of the most serious on that border since 2006, when Hizbullah and Israel fought a 34-day war. Quiet returned on Thursday, though Lebanese media reported overflights by Israeli air force drones.

Shared interest

Both sides appear to share an interest in avoiding further escalation.

Iranian-backed Hizbullah, which fought Israel to a standstill in 2006, is busy backing Damascus in Syria’s civil war. It may also be mindful of the ruin Israel has threatened to wreak on Lebanon should they again enter a full-on conflict.

Israel is gearing up for a March 17th general election and gauging the costs of its offensive on the Gaza Strip last year against Palestinian guerrillas, whose arsenal is dwarfed by Hizbullah’s powerful long-range rockets.

Mr Yaalon said Wednesday’s Hizbullah attack was “revenge” for the Israeli air strike on January 18th in southern Syria that killed several Hizbullah members, including a senior operative, along with an Iranian general.

Israel has not formally acknowledged carrying out the air strike, but Mr Yaalon said it had set back Hizbullah and Iranian efforts to “open a new front” against the Jewish state from the Syrian Golan Heights.

Reuters