According to Press TV , Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Sheik Naim Qassem reaffirmed today that the movement has “100 percent solid evidence that Israel had killed martyr Mugniyah“. Interestingly, the Ha’aretz article had a somewhat different rendering of Sheikh Naim Qassem’s words: ” “we have clear proof, of 100 percent that cannot be doubted, that Israel is the head of the assassination” Qassem said there is no basis for the claim that others were behind the assassination. “Know that Israel is responsible and it must bear the whole responsibility.” “Know that Israel is responsible and it must bear the whole responsibility“.
Notice that Sheikh Naim Qassem specifically speaks of Israel being the *head* of the assassination, but says nothing about the “hands” which actually committed the murder. Keeping in mind that Mughniya’s widow has clearly accused Syrian agents of being behind the murder of her husband, I find this phrasing interesting.
Shekh Naim Qassem made this statement at the end of the 40 day mourning period which, this year, coincides with the Jewish feast of Purim, something which has some observers predicting an imminent Hezbollah retaliatory operation.
I very much doubt that Hezbollah will oblige and act in such a predictable manner. In fact, I suspect that Sheikh Naim Qassem is “rattling the cage” of the Israelis very deliberately, to get them to keep as high an alert level as possible for as long as possible. Why? Because Hezbollah fully understands that high level of alert are not sustainable beyond a relatively short while (those interested in this issue can read Richard Bett’s excellent book Surprise Attack: Lessons for Defensive Planning; the book is clearly dated, but its underlying analyses are still very pertinent).
Regardless of the fact that Hezbollah was *not* behind the bombings in Argentina, most Israelis and most Jews probably believe that Hezbollah did it – as a retaliation for Israel’s assassination of Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Abbas Mussawi – and, therefore, that it could do it again (which it definitely could, which does not at all mean that it would). It thus appears that the anti-Hezbollah propaganda of the USA and Israel is now having its own unintended consequences: it strikes fear in the hearts of Israelis and Jews who now fear a similar attack. My guess is that Sheikh Naim Qassem is fully aware of all this and that he is using these fears to wear down the Israelis.
So will Hezbollah retaliate and could it choose an Israeli target outside Israel?
Probably yes. However, it is important to understand that Hezbollah does not at all equate the terms “Israeli” and “Jewish” (anyone doubting this should read Hizbullah: politics and religion by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and, of course, Hizbullah: the story from within by Seikh Naim Qassem himself, a must read for anyone wanting to understand Hezbollah). Quite to the contrary, Hezbollah’s goes to great lengths to stress that its struggle against Zionism is not a struggle against either the Jewish people or Judaism. Even though many, if not most, Jewish institutions abroad do, alas, have close ties to the Israeli government and its security services, I do not think that Hezbollah will strike at them.
Hezbollah is all too aware of how aptly the Israeli leaders conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and, unlike the PLO in the past, they will surely recognize that retaliating for Mughnieh’s murder by killing innocent Jews outside Israel will be both immoral and highly counter-productive. In fact, this is exactly what the Israeli leaders now hope that Hezbollah will do as this will only serve their purposes.
No – I predict that when Hezbollah does strike, it will be at a clearly identifiable Israeli government target, probably at a very high level (ministerial or equivalent). Where can one find such targets? In Europe, of course, but also in the Middle-East itself and, last but not least. in Israel itself. Without going into details here, I don’t want to be accused of giving anyone any ideas, I can say that there are several venues where mixed security jurisdictions result in relatively easy access to ministerial level personalities. For somebody willing to be arrested or die in the process, getting close to an Israeli minister is really a no-brainer. I personally have done so many times without ever being searched, x-rayed, or even challenged in any way: the Israeli security people could only provide last ditch close-up protection and the local security people (correctly) assumed that I was working for the local organizers. The fact is, getting a job which gives you physical access to world leaders is not at all has hard as some people think, and most security measures are worse than laughable. Again, if somebody wants to get close to a top official it is really easy to do so.
Could Hezbollah strike in Israel itself? I don’t know, but such an attack would be much, much harder. The biggest danger for Israeli officials are people like Yigal Amir with close ties to Israeli security organizations. The closest the Palestinians ever got to killing an Isareli minister was the assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi, who had already retired and who did not take the needed precautions for his security. While Jewish fanatics of the Gush Emunim might well get close enough to kill an acting Israeli minister, I just don’t see the Palestinians pulling off something like this. Could Hezbollah, who is far, far better organized and more capable than any Palestinian organization, do it? Possibly, and the psychological effect of striking at a top Israeli official inside Israel might just be worth the effort.
Needless to say, should Hezbollah attack a top Israeli official, regardless of the location of the attack, it would trigger an violent military response of Israel against Lebanon. Would that deter Hezbollah? I don’t think so, in particular not with the USA blocking any solution to the political crisis in Lebanon and with the USS Cole off the Lebanese coast. What incentive does Hezbollah have to maintain the status quo?
By all accounts, Hezbollah is now fully ready with 10’000 long range and another 20’000 shorter range rockets ready to be fired at Israel. Besides, so many observers have predicted a “round 2” war between Hezbollah and the humiliated and defeated Israelis that it is a safe bet to say that Hezbollah already knows that a war will happen no matter what it does or does not do. In this context, it makes perfect sense for Hezbollah to play on the Israeli’s nerves by issuing not so veiled threats while carefully planning the time and place of its retaliation. Sheikh Naim Qassem’s accusations are most likely part of a psychological preparation of the battlefield for the next war.