The August 3 border clash between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has important military implications, demonstrating the readiness of the IDF to respond to any border incident and revealing the potential for the LAF and the Lebanese state to become directly and substantially involved in a future conflict between Israel and Hizballah. Moreover, the incident has occurred in the context of serious preparations by Hizballah and
The military picture in southern
Hizballah, without question, is the dominant military power in southern
For the Israeli military,
For its part, the LAF has three infantry-type brigades in the south facing
UNIFIL, meanwhile, has between twelve and thirteen thousand soldiers deployed south of the
Military Activity on the Border
The Israel-Lebanon border has been relatively quiet since the 2006 war, although a steady level of military activity has persisted on both sides and occasional incidents have occurred. According to IDF data, in 2009 alone, five incidents took place involving the firing of rockets at
Since the IDF withdrawal from
In its contest with Hizballah, the IDF seeks to control and secure the area along the border, including its own ability to maintain unimpeded observation inside
The IDF conducts several types of activities along the border aimed at restricting Hizballah's military freedom of action. These include clearing obstacles to observation, as on August 3; patrols by elements of the 91st Division; assertion of a presence in the "enclaves" between the blue line international border and the Israeli security fence; establishing ambushes; and conducting aerial observation and reconnaissance. These actions are intended to keep Hizballah at a distance and to restrict its ability to operate close to the border.
The LAF's engagement of IDF elements on August 3 supported, intentionally or not, Hizballah's efforts. The IDF had been acting to remove obstacles to its ability to see into
The IDF was prepared to respond to the LAF incident with significant force, including with tanks, artillery, and attack helicopters. Israeli troops on the scene reacted quickly, indicating a high level of readiness for a hostile event. Yet while the IDF responded with strength, it also exercised control, limiting its efforts to the area of the clash and the LAF elements directly involved, including the LAF battalion headquarters in the area. All the same, the incident showed unmistakably that the IDF has no real hesitation about striking Lebanese government forces, if provoked.
The decision by local LAF elements to engage the IDF, suggests certain LAF units in the south will actively oppose any future Israeli operations in
In the aftermath of the August 3 skirmish, relations will remain tense between the IDF and the LAF, especially along the border. From the IDF perspective, the LAF action was an ambush, with the evidence being that its two casualties were some two hundred meters from the IDF brush-cutting activity and were hit by sniper fire. The IDF had already been concerned about LAF "provocations" along the border, and it will be ready to respond with substantial force in the event of further incidents. Such a dynamic raises the risk of additional and more intense clashes.
Moreover, rising IDF suspicions about the LAF-Hizballah relationship date from before the incident. Those suspicions will not be allayed now. Although Hizballah's involvement has not been proven, the incident served Hizballah's purposes. In addition, the organization's media representatives were present, and the IDF, at least, believes that the Lebanese brigade involved is connected to Hizballah.
As in other cases in southern
Hizballah is attempting to take advantage of the incident to tighten its relationship with the LAF. The organization's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, was quick to signal in his speech on the same day Hizballah's commitment to defending
The August 3 incident will have residual effects. Beyond poisoning relations between the IDF and LAF, it has added to what was already seen as an increasingly dangerous situation.
War talk is in the air, as it was this past spring. This time, however, it goes beyond discussion of the Hizballah-Israel military balance to recognition of a deteriorating political and military climate. The relative stability that followed the previous war has become increasingly precarious.
Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in Arab-Israeli military and security affairs.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.