JERUSALEM – Palestinian organizations in Lebanon were given a green light by Iran, Syria and by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia to escalate tension along Israel’s northern border if a truce is not reached over the weekend and if Israel’s continued war in Gaza begins to severely damage Hamas in the coming days, according to informed Israeli defense sources.
Hamas’ chief Kheled Meshaal announced yesterday at an Arab conference his group will not accept Israeli conditions for a cease-fire in Gaza and would continue attacking the Jewish state until the Israeli offensive in Gaza ends.
Meshaal joined Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a surprise visit to a Doha conference aimed at dealing with the Gaza crisis. But Hamas sources said the terror group will send representatives to Egypt this weekend to continue truce talks with Israel.
Israeli officials have made no secret of their desire to reach a cease-fire in the near future.
“I hope we are entering the end game and that our goal of sustained and durable quiet in the south (of Israel) is about to be attained,” government spokesman Mark Regev said.
According to Jerusalem diplomatic sources, Israel has demanded in the truce talks a complete halt to Hamas rocket-fire against Jewish communities outside Gaza; international monitors along the Egypt-Gaza border – the site of rampant Hamas weapons smuggling; and the reinstatement in key Gaza areas of security forces from the U.S.-backed Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Up for talks is some sort of armed international contingent to patrol Gaza.
Hamas rejects any Fatah presence in Gaza and demands the opening of crossings along the Israel-Gaza border as well as the extension of any truce to the West Bank, which is said to be dominated by Fatah.
Meanwhile, according to informed Israeli defense sources, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are concerned that if a cease-fire is not reached, the IDF will be allowed to continue the third phase of its offensive – a large-scale ground effort to sweep clean Gaza’s terrorist infrastructure.
The IDF has launched two portions of a planned assault on Gaza. The first stage was Israel’s continuing aerial bombardment of Hamas targets, which the terror group admits dented its government infrastructure. Israeli sources said it resulted in some damage to the group’s military capabilities. The second stage began last week, with some ground troops entering Gaza, taking up peripheral positions in central and northern Gaza and mounting small offensives within Gaza City and select northern Gaza camps.
But defense sources say to deal a decisive blow to Hamas, the IDF must embark on an extensive, large-scale ground operation that would clean out central and northern Gaza of Hamas’ intact military wing.
The sources said Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have given a green light to Palestinian groups in Lebanon to attempt to escalate tensions along the northern border with rocket and mortar fire or with shootings along the Israel-Lebanese border.
Two days ago, at least three Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel, prompting the IDF to fire eight shells back at the source near the village of Kfar Hamam in southern Lebanon. The IDF immediately sent warplanes and gunships to fly reconnaissance missions into southern Lebanon in a clear warning signal to Hezbollah, which largely controls the territory. Also, according to local reports, the U.N., which maintains a 13,000-strong force in south Lebanon, sent out patrols to seek out the source of fire.
The shelling ignited immediate fears from pundits speaking to the Israeli media of the opening of a second front outside Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Although no group has yet taken responsibility for the rocket-fire from Lebanon, it is extremely unlikely any rockets can be launched from Lebanon without coordination with Hezbollah.
Defense officials in Tel Aviv earlier this week told WND that Israel estimates the rockets were fired by Palestinian groups on behalf of Hezbollah.
But the defense officials said Israel doesn’t believe either Hezbollah or its Syrian patron are looking to engage in any direct conflict with the IDF. They said they estimate Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is trying to prompt Israel into fortifying its northern border with Lebanon in a bid to draw some Israeli forces out of fighting the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.
Currently, a large contingent of the Golani Brigades, the elite force charged with protecting northern Israel, is fighting inside Gaza or stationed along the Israel-Gaza border.
Last Thursday, two Israelis were lightly wounded in a rocket attack from Lebanon. Later, small arms fire was reported along Israel’s border with Syria. Defense officials said in both cases Israel estimated Syria and Hezbollah were looking to draw Israeli troops from Gaza back to the north but that Israel’s foes in the north were not interested in engaging the IDF.
Two weeks ago, WND was the first to report Hezbollah may allow Palestinian groups in south Lebanon to launch rockets into Israel. An Egyptian intelligence official told WND at the time the probability is low Hezbollah would directly engage Israel. But the official said Hezbollah is considering allowing Palestinian groups in south Lebanon to launch Katyusha rockets into Israel in hopes of complicating the IDF focus on Gaza.