by Itzhak Levanon
-- if Beirut continues to side with the Shiite terrorist group, an Israeli strike in Lebanon may prove inevitable.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vague statement in Paris last week on is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that Moscow's ire over the Sept. 17 downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses trying to counter and Israeli airstrike has yet to subside.
It also indicated that Israel's policy in Syria has become more prudent, and to a great extent, the public threats against Syria have been replaced with quiet threats against Lebanon.
French National Security Adviser Orléan la-Chevalier visited Israel two weeks ago, ahead of a visit to Beirut. According to Lebanon's al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, in his meetings with Lebanese officials, the French envoy relayed Israeli warnings saying that unless Beirut stops Hezbollah from getting Iranian weapons shipments, Israel would have no choice but to target Hezbollah assets in Lebanon.
Hezbollah learned of this almost immediately, which is not surprising considering Lebanese President Michel Aoun's affinity with the Shiite terrorist group, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quick to respond with threats of his own, saying any Israeli strike would meet a forceful response.
This is not the only example of the close ties Beirut maintains with Hezbollah. Several Lebanese MPs and even the country's chief of staff have stated that if another war breaks out between Hezbollah and Israel, Lebanon's army will fight alongside the Shiite terrorist group, which wields considerable political power in the country.
Moreover, Lebanon knows that Hezbollah strives to improve the accuracy of its missiles and is doing nothing to stop it, and in all honesty, Israel knows that the Lebanese government or military cannot really prevent Hezbollah from getting its hands on Iranian weapons, as even if all the ethnic and political powers in Lebanon came together, they would still be unable to counter Hezbollah's military might.
Hezbollah has gained significant political clout in Lebanon, even winning a majority in May's parliamentary elections. Add to that the fact that the Lebanese army no longer bothers to conceal its collaboration with the group, and you have an overtly hostile neighbor in the north.
All Israel can do at this point is follow through on the warnings it conveyed via the French envoy. Strategically, making things right with Russia outweighs engaging in a limited conflict with Hezbollah. The latter is still deterred enough to contain an Israeli strike, if one proves necessary.
Having relayed its message using back channels, Israel must now make its position public so both official and unofficial Lebanon understands – it has been warned.
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