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A southern front with Israel? Not for the moment

File - Palestinians wave Hamas flags during a rally at Fatima gate near the village of Kfar Kila, on the Lebanese-Israeli border, as they celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Sunday, May 22, 2005. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Despite Hezbollah’s recent reconciliation with Hamas, the party is currently unlikely to mobilize against Israel over its ongoing offensive aimed at crushing the Islamist group in Gaza, analysts said Tuesday, with most generally agreeing that any intervention rests on how things go on the ground.

“A full land invasion has yet to take place. Hezbollah’s decision is related to this and the situation in Lebanon,” Qassem Kassir, an expert on Islamic groups, told The Daily Star. For the moment, he said, “The resistance in Gaza is handling the situation well.”

A Lebanese political source agreed that Hezbollah was likely not to act unless a “red line” was crossed.

“If Israelis come close to breaching red lines, the Israel-Lebanon border will not remain calm,” the source said. “Any attempt to destroy Hamas is a serious sign.”

The source added that it would likely take a large scale Israeli operation that attempts to eradicate the resistance in Gaza. “Limited operations to stop the making or smuggling of rockets will not be considered the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” the source said.

The Syrian crisis led to a strain in relations between former allies Hamas and Hezbollah, with the predominantly Shiite Lebanese party siding with the Syrian regime and the Palestinian group – which is mostly Sunni – taking the side of the opposition.

At one point, Hezbollah even claimed that Hamas was teaching the Syrian rebels tactics it had picked up from the Lebanese group.

But a recently publicized phone conversation between the two groups’ leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, has indicated that the two resistance movements are increasing cooperation and strengthening ties once more.

According to several sources, Hamas and Hezbollah have been in contact since Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” began more than two weeks ago.

Hamas’ representative in Lebanon described the recent phone call between Nasrallah and Meshaal as “very positive.”

It was “aimed at reconciling a relationship between the resistance in Lebanon and the resistance in Palestine,” Ali Barakeh told The Daily Star.

“Iranian officials emphasized their support for the resistance in Gaza and said they would do their best to support them,” he added.

For Qassir, the news of publicized and direct contacts between Meshaal and Hezbollah for the first time in two years is an important development.

Hezbollah has also released a statement pledging its support for “the resistance in Gaza and [highlighting] the solidarity and the backing it will provide the Gaza resistance.”

“Additionally, the Lebanese resistance is fully ready to collaborate with the Palestinian resistance in any way that helps it achieve its goals and in foiling the aggression.”

More than 500 people have died as a result of Israel’s offensive on Gaza, more than 400 of whom are Palestinian civilians, an enormous toll that has prompted international condemnation.

Yet Hezbollah has not embroiled itself in a large scale military confrontation with Israel since the war in 2006, and analysts don’t foresee that changing given their heavy involvement in Syria.

“I don’t expect [Hezbollah] will intervene at this stage because it’s busy in Syria and on the borders with Syria, [namely in] Qalamoun and the Arsal mountains,” said Dr. Haytham Mouzahem, a Lebanese political analyst and expert in Islamist movements.

“Is it possible? Yes. Is it on their agenda? That is a different question,” said Dr. Imad Salamey, a professor of Political Science at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

“It isn’t on their agenda to attack Israel at the moment. On the contrary they are currently collaborating with the Lebanese Army to secure the [southern] border of Lebanon.”

Salamey argued neither Hezbollah nor their major regional ally Iran were currently seeking confrontation with the West and Israel in light of their large commitment to the fighting in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad’s regime.

More information may emerge later this week, however, as Nasrallah is due to speak Friday to mark Al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) in a speech that is expected to concentrate on the issue of Hamas and Hezbollah’s reconciliation and the situation in Gaza.

“Friday’s speech can indicate certain signs as to how the situation will evolve and how Hezbollah wants to deal [with the regional situation],” Qassir said.

But for the time being, analysts say a military confrontation on Lebanon’s southern border seems farfetched at best – at least for the moment.

“Although, it has no strategic interest in a war with Israel, if things develop and the Israeli massacres become [too much] and the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip threatens the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance, Hezbollah can’t be silent,” said Mouzahem. – Additional reporting by Ghinwa Obeid

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Despite Hezbollah's recent reconciliation with Hamas, the party is currently unlikely to mobilize against Israel over its ongoing offensive aimed at crushing the Islamist group in Gaza, analysts said Tuesday, with most generally agreeing that any intervention rests on how things go on the ground.

A Lebanese political source agreed that Hezbollah was likely not to act unless a "red line" was crossed.

The Syrian crisis led to a strain in relations between former allies Hamas and Hezbollah, with the predominantly Shiite Lebanese party siding with the Syrian regime and the Palestinian group – which is mostly Sunni – taking the side of the opposition.

At one point, Hezbollah even claimed that Hamas was teaching the Syrian rebels tactics it had picked up from the Lebanese group.

According to several sources, Hamas and Hezbollah have been in contact since Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" began more than two weeks ago.

More information may emerge later this week, however, as Nasrallah is due to speak Friday to mark Al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) in a speech that is expected to concentrate on the issue of Hamas and Hezbollah's reconciliation and the situation in Gaza.


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