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Can conflict be contained or will it spread throughout region?
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
Friday July 14, 2006
Why did Hizbullah spark this latest conflict?
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrullah has said his intent in capturing two Israeli soldiers was to bargain for the release of Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. He has promised to attempt such a release for years. Still, many analysts in Lebanon were stunned by the scale of the attack, by far the most serious operation that the fundamentalist militia has launched in years. It seems timed to coincide with Hamas operations in Gaza, where a third Israeli soldier is being held. There is an internal Lebanese dynamic at play here as well and Hizbullah may be trying a high-risk strategy of reasserting its position within Lebanon.
Would Tehran or Damascus have had a hand in the decision?
Hizbullah is based in Lebanon but has always been closely linked to Syria and especially Iran, which was instrumental in the founding of the militia in the early 1980s. Syria has said it did not order the mission. "The resistance in south Lebanon and among the Palestinian people decides solely what to do and why," the Syrian vice president, Farouq al-Shara, told reporters. But it is still unlikely such a major operation could have gone ahead without at least the knowledge of Hizbullah's key allies in Tehran.
What can the Lebanese government do?
It is in an extremely difficult position. On the one hand Hizbullah has two ministers in the coalition cabinet and the government has spoken publicly of its support for the group which it describes as a legitimate resistance force. On the other hand, the wide respect that Hizbullah enjoyed across Lebanese society at the end of the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 is beginning to fade.