If the Hariri tribunal indict several Hezbollah operatives, as expected, the militant group could use an escalation against Israel to divert the political storm.

By Avi Issacharoff

It is not clear in which direction Lebanon is heading: Is it a country on the verge of collapse? Is it heading toward a civil war? A war against Israel? Or is it just facing another political crisis that too will pass?

There have been an increasing number of reports of late hinting at Hezbollah’s preparations for a war against Israel. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam reported on Wednesday that the Shi’ite organization has completed its preparations for a war against Israel, including the construction of an extensive network of tunnels throughout the whole of Lebanon.

The report comes amidst the threat of an escalation against Israel when the findings of the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – the father of current Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri – are published in the near future.

According to the report, Hezbollah has completed equipping its arsenal of missiles and weapons and finished building its defensive network against a possible Israeli attack. The network stretches from the length of the Lebanon’s coast to the country’s mountainous eastern region.

According to the same report, the decision whether to go to war or to preserve the quiet is in Hezbollah’s hands.

Although one should not get too worked up over reports like this, it should be of interest to the Israeli public and security establishment.

According to the Kuwaiti report, Hezbollah’s preparations for an Israeli attack include booby-trapped tunnels equipped with sensors and mines.

“Hezbollah is preparing for confrontations with Israeli soldiers [in the tunnels],” the report said.

According to the report, Israeli soldiers have trained against tunnel models based on the tunnels in Tora Bora, Afghanistan but the tunnels constructed by Hezbollah in Lebanon differ from the Tora Bora tunnels. The report said that the training undergone by Israeli soldiers would not aid them against Hezbollah due to the differing nature of the tunnels.

Likewise, Hamas has reportedly dug tunnels between Rafah and Gaza City of a similar nature to the Hezbollah tunnels.

The Hariri tribunal is expected in the coming days to indict Hezbollah operatives for the assassination and various publications in Lebanon and the Arab world have touched on the possibility of a war against Israel.

Last week, the Lebanese newspaper ad-Diyar reported that the tribal would make its indictments today. But that report was denied by the Lebanese foreign ministry and it is still not clear when the tribunal will publish its conclusions.

Saad Hariri, who met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this week, said France would stand by the findings of the tribunal, in an attempt to signal to Hezbollah and other political actors in Lebanon that the tribunal’s findings would be released despite efforts to end the crisis in country.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Syria, in an effort to end the crisis and avoid a civil war in Lebanon, are trying to delay the publication of the findings of the tribunal and also attempting to determine how the various political Lebanese political factions will respond to the findings.

Meanwhile, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Wednesday began meetings with representatives of various organizations and groups in Lebanon in order to bring about the renewal of government activities. The government has been paralyzed because of the tribunal issue.

Hezbollah, which has the power to veto government decisions, had demanded that the Lebanese government freeze financial aid provided to the tribunal. Hariri refused to freeze the funding, leading to paralysis of government activity.

The bottom line is that there does not yet appear to be a light at the end of the Lebanese tunnel. It seems that the danger of a civil war hangs over the country in light of the upcoming publication of the tribunal’s conclusions.

The question is what Hezbollah will do until then and whether it will use an escalation against Israel in order to deflect the political storm within Lebanon. And as can be seen from both the Israeli and Hezbollah sides, another violent Israel-Hezbollah confrontation would make the Second Lebanon War of 2006 look like child’s play in comparison.



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