- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Hezbollah fired at least three rockets from Southern Lebanon into Northern Israel on Thursday, one landing in the kitchen of an old-age home in Nahariya, wounding two elderly Israelis. It is unclear whether the rockets were fired by Hezbollah as part of an effort by Iran and Syria to open a second front against the Israeli military, which is already waging a bitter military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah has officially denied responsibility for firing the rockets, and there are numerous other terrorist groups in Lebanon with both the capability and motive to strike Israel. Jerusalem is focusing attention on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). Veteran anti-terror expert David Gartenstein-Ross points out that the PFLP-GC is an armed military group controlled by Syria, and according to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, it “provides strategic depth for the resistance in Lebanon and Gaza.”

When the fighting in Gaza began late last month, the Lebanese Army dismantled eight short-range Katyusha rocket launchers set up on a timer to strike Israel. Tony Badran, a Lebanon analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he doubts whether Hezbollah was behind either recent effort to hit Israel from Lebanon. In an interview with The Washington Times yesterday, Mr. Badran emphasized that Syria has “multiple messengers” in Lebanon. He noted that just four days ago, an Iranian envoy met with representatives of Hezbollah, the PFLP-GC, Palestinian islamic Jihad and other terrorist factions in Damascus. Right after that, PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril announced that his organization would open up a new front against Israel. A PFLP-GC spokesman did not deny or affirm that his organization had fired the rockets at Nahariya, stating only that the fighting was “open to all possibilities.”

Although Hezbollah may not have carried out the attack, it is probably not unhappy over the fact that the attacks took place from Lebanon. The military strike against Israel gives it an excuse to legitimize Lebanese “resistance” forces in the event of Israeli retaliation against Lebanon - without being blamed for starting a war. It also could serve as a warning to the international community that Hezbollah and/or other Lebanese factions could start trouble if they attempt to push through a peace plan such as the one in Gaza proposed by Egypt and France - which focuses on bringing in foreign forces to prevent Hamas weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza. At the same time, Mr. Badran says, Hezbollah’s warning that it may open a second front against Israel “is not exactly a thumping display of power.” Hezbollah’s ally Hamas is being “pummeled to the ground,” Mr. Badran says, and the Lebanese group’s only response is a relatively weak one: to threaten that it might intervene at some future point. Hezbollah’s tentative reaction results from lingering Lebanese anger over its role in provoking the 2006 war with Israel, which Lebanon has yet to recover from.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent trip to Syria in an effort to forge a cease-fire was a huge mistake, according to Mr. Badran. At the conclusion of the meeting, Syrian President Bashar Assad reiterated Hamas’ demands that Israel end its military campaign in Gaza. But he failed to do what Mr. Sarkozy wanted: to call on Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. Whether through Hezbollah or through another Lebanon-based terror faction, Damascus (and by extension, Tehran) will likely continue probing for ways to exercise a veto over any effort to devise a cease-fire that would rein in Hamas.