Analysis: Lebanese rockets raise fear of 2nd front
By MATTI FRIEDMAN, Associated Press Writer
NAHARIYA, Israel – Residents of this northern Israeli town awoke Thursday to one of their country's worst nightmares: Rockets from Lebanon, and the possibility of a second front in a battle that has raged for two weeks in Gaza.
No armed group claimed responsibility for the two Katyusha rockets that lightly injured two Israelis. But the most likely suspects were small Palestinian factions operating in south Lebanon and known to possess Katyushas.
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, denied it was behind the attack. But Hezbollah has been suspected in the past by Israel and its opponents in Lebanon of using allied radical groups to irritate Israel with a lower risk of retaliation.
Quiet returned to the border after a brief retaliation by Israeli artillery. But the point had been made: Israel may be tied up in an offensive in the Gaza Strip in the south aimed at halting rocket fire from Hamas, but millions more Israelis are vulnerable to rockets from Lebanon to the north of its border.
Israel now faces threats on two of its borders from Islamic organizations with close ties to Iran. Hamas rockets threaten about 1 million Israelis in the south out of a population of 7 million, and Israel's military believes that the rockets in the Hezbollah's arsenal can hit most of the remaining 6 million.
"We're all a bit traumatized at the moment," said Sarit Arieli, 44, who awoke to the sound of the rocket's impact in the border town of Nahariya and was standing outside the nursing home it hit several hours later. But she added, "I think we're stronger than them."
The rockets were fired from territory under Hezbollah's de facto control. But Hezbollah — which ignited the devastating war in the summer of 2006 that left swaths of Lebanon in ruins — has said it does not want to drag the country into another conflict.
Backed by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah likely wants to avoid damaging its newfound standing as a credible player on Lebanon's political stage. After showing its military strength against Israel in 2006 and then again in May 2008 against its Lebanese rivals — when it took control of large parts of Beirut by force — Hezbollah is now a partner in Lebanon's government with veto power over all decisions.
Its leaders have been making do with fiery speeches.
One of the small radical groups in Lebanon allied with Hezbollah, the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, had warned it might open other fronts against Israel if the Gaza offensive continues.
Its officials refused to deny or confirm they were behind the rocket attack. But spokesman Anwar Raja in Syria seemed to voice support, telling the AP it was "a natural outcome ... of the Israeli aggression."
Lebanon has the most to lose from a new war, having only recently begun recovering from the ravages of the last one. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said Thursday the rocket fire "is the work of parties who stand to lose from the continued stability in Lebanon."
Israel, too, does not appear to be eager for a second fight.
"Even though we have the ability to respond with great force, the response needs to be carefully considered and responsible," Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit told Army Radio. "We don't need to play into their hands."