BEIRUT – An escalation along the Lebanese-Israeli border is unlikely despite this week’s deadly clashes as all parties, including Hizbollah, appear keen on containing the situation, at least for now, analysts say.
“Israel and Hizbollah had a golden opportunity to fight it out and Hizbollah would have had a perfect alibi to say they were defending the country,” said Ghassan Azzi, political science professor at Lebanese University.
“But I don’t think the war is for tomorrow as it’s not the right time,” Azzi told AFP.
Tuesday’s flare-up along the volatile border between Lebanese and Israeli troops – over an operation to uproot a tree – marked the worst fighting in the area since the 2006 war between the Shiite Hizbollah and Israel.
The clashes, which left four people dead, illustrated the high tension in the region and how a small incident could potentially escalate into all-out war.
But the subsequent measured response by all the parties also showed that no one wants a fight, at least for now.
“In the near future, I don’t see an escalation,” said Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies.
“It is not a Lebanese army corporal who is going to start the war in the south,” he added. “It is way beyond that and the factors for that war aren’t there yet.”
The Israeli military believes the shootout was sparked by a lone Lebanese army officer who was not acting on orders from higher-ups, Israeli defence experts said.
Analysts pointed out that Hizbollah, by far the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon, on Tuesday had stayed out of the clashes that took place in a region largely under their control in a move that shows it is not ready for war.
“Hizbollah is trying very smartly to get as much mileage as possible out of this,” Safa said. “They have said they are ready [for battle]… but the timing is absolutely theirs.”
He added that had the armed group, backed by Syria and Iran, stepped into the fray on Tuesday it would have provoked a regional conflict.
“Fighting along the army would mean war and this is not on the table right now,” he said.
Israel, which considers Hizbollah its number one enemy in Lebanon and is keen on neutralising the party’s military capacity, also showed restraint after Tuesday’s skirmish.
“One must act in such a way that a local incident does not degenerate into a full-blown crisis,” Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday.
“I hope there will be no escalation, that we will have a calm summer and that things will return to normal.”
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report released this week that it was clear the calm that has prevailed in the Israeli-Lebanese arena since the end of the 2006 reflected fears that the next conflict would be far more devastating.
“None of the most directly relevant actors – Israel, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran – relishes this prospect, so all, for now, are intent on keeping their powder dry.”