Crossfire War – Israel Encounters Serious – Organized Reponse from Hamas Tuesday

Crossfire War – RAPID FIRE NEWS=TEHRAN – GAZA – EL ARISH WATCH – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Baghdad – Beirut – Damascus – El Arish – Nablus – Gaza/Jerusalem – Cairo – Amman – Paris – Rome – London – Washington; IDF Encounters Serious – Organized Response from Hamas During Gaza Raid – Israel Receives Support from Germany for Gaza Offensive – More Than a Million People Expected at Thursday Rally at Martyrs Square Beirut for Third Anniversary of Rafiq al-Hariri Assassination

Night Watch: GAZA – Debka reports an Israeli armored Golani brigade encountered heavy, well organized opposition from Hamas when the brigade raided northern, central and southern Gaza Tuesday morning. Hamas and Palestinian militants now seem to be ready to use the tactics they will need when Israel conducts its large offensive which could begin before the month is over. On all three fronts Tuesday the Golani brigade was met by mortar and Qassam rockets that had been modified for the battlefield with a range of half a mile (1 km). The brigade has been assigned to attack Hamas’ missile and military infrastructure, which exists all over the Gaza Strip. The Hamas units Israel encountered attempted to prevent the brigade from securing bridgeheads that will be needed for Israel’s offensive. [DEBKA]

Berlin – In the meantime in Berlin Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has received official, complete understanding for Israel’s offensive by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government. Haaretz reports Chancellor Merkel stated after the first of Olmert’s two day visit, “I think that the fact that there is terrorism emanating from Gaza raises the question of how to respond and how to prevent Hamas from doing this. The humanitarian situation is difficult and we are trying to help as much as possible, but first they must stop firing on Israeli cities.” Berlin of course realizes Hamas and Palestinian militants cannot be persuaded peacefully. After his meeting with Merkel Prime Minister Olmert spoke to reporters, “There is a great deal of understanding in Germany about Israel’s need to defend itself. To the best of my understanding Merkel understands that it’s impossible not to respond to Qassams firing.” [HAARETZ]

Their mutual understanding is not really based on humanitarian concerns but on the united realization the economic position of Israel and the West would be seriously at risk if Hamas, an extension of Iran’s military, is able to cause more disruption not only to Israel but also to international interests that flow from the Eastern Mediterranean through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. And Jerusalem-Berlin are aware, since Tehran had Hamas force open the Rafah Terminal, Iran through Hamas and its parent organization the Muslim Brotherhood, are in a position to at least disrupt if not control the Egyptian economy along the Suez Canal. Since the Second World War there has been a large, economically vibrant German expatriate community living in the Cairo suburb Heliopolis and they don’t wish to lose access to the economies and resources of West Asia. Therefore any regional theatre or front where Tehran can experience military reverses, whether Hamas in Gaza-Sinai, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Georgian government in the Caucasus fine and any military that can cause those defeats for Iran will have Berlin’s support including some substantial financing.

Olmert also discussed Israel’s concerns and latest findings on Iran’s nuclear weapons program but Berlin realizes it will be up to Moscow to lead the response to that immediate threat.

Martyrs Square Beirut – Other political-militia leaders on both sides of the political war in Lebanon are echoing the inflammatory rhetoric of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and his Sunday speech in front of hundreds of cheering supporters, We don’t want war but we are ready when it happens. Tears for Lebanon (TFL) reports political analyst Nabil bou Monsef wrote in the influential newspaper An-Nahar, “The opposition has for a long time played this game of increasingly powerful rhetoric. Now the majority has decided to adopt the same strategy.” Monsef added ominously it’s as if the pro-government forces, the majority are now saying, “Enough is enough.” This is a prelude to war. [TFL]

This inflammatory oratorical style was set by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah ever since he and his organization survived its month long war with Israel in the summer of 2006. Though Nasrallah exhorts his followers to embrace heroic martyrdom on the frontline in Lebanon’s south, he and his closest aides remain safe in a deep underground bunker in Lebanon’s north. In Sept. 2006, just one month after the war ended, with Hezbollah’s enhanced position in the country, he stated Hezbollah had 22,000 rockets. TFL reports last October he then announced they now have 33,000 and Nasrallah always puts on a show when he makes these declarations by speaking in front of large rallies through his image projected on a huge screen somewhere in the south of the country Hezbollah’s main base of popular support. During Walid Jumblatt’s belligerent message Sunday he said, “We will seize these rockets from you because we don’t fear martyrdom.” At the same time both Nasrallah and Jumblatt are telling their followers to remain calm.

Violent incidents began and have since increased since January 27, a Sunday, when seven people were killed during a demonstration in south Beirut protesting all the power outages which some suspect are politically motivated as if pro-government neighborhoods receive power more often, at least that is what the opposition claims, though Al Jazeera aired today power has been an issue in Lebanon since its fifteen year civil war ended in 1990. As reported yesterday there were two exchanges of fire last Sunday night after Jumblatt’s speech, one in the mountain resort town of Aley ten miles east of Beirut and another in Beirut’s district of Ain el-Tineh with neither incident involving Hezbollah or Amal its opposition partner.

Now two other prominent pro-government leaders Dr. Samir Geagea and former President Amin Gemayel have held press conferences of their own attacking not only the opposition but also their support from Iran and Syria. As recently as one year ago only Damascus would be criticized publicly but now Tehran and its manipulative influence, which is nothing new, is being targeted as never before. Even during the street demonstrations all last year the political debate within the opposing political blocs in Parliament had descended into name calling but now there is this war of the press conferences amid signs of street fighting. One of the more prominent leaders of the opposition, Christian nationalist General Michel Aoun has just answered Geagea and Gemayel with his own press conference attacking the government. This is why the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who has been to Lebanon three times already this year, has given up in trying finding a consensus agreement that could at least end the impasse of choosing the next President. What caused Moussa to give up was when he found out General Aoun and the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, another opposition leader, that they both had two sets of instructions of how to end the dispute. In his negotiations Moussa also realized the opposition was actually contradicting itself.

Appearing to be above all this is Saad Hariri, leader of Lebanon’s Future Movement, who said in a recent interview, “We don’t want confrontation. But if we are dragged into one we will not stay hands tight. We are a silent majority. We have been silent for three years despite all what has happened.” Their silence seems to have ended Sunday since it was Hariri’s Future Movement that exchanged fire with opposition supporters of Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh. Probably due to all that has happened in the past three years, Hariri has seen Tehran use the opposition coalition to paralyze the government and heavily engage the army for three months last year through the suicide unit Fatah al-Islam at the Palestinian refugee city Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli. I suspect that action was a message from Tehran-Damascus they are quite willing to use the heavily armed coalition opposition and enter the war with the intention of rendering Beirut and the country’s other major cities in the same ruined condition as Nahr al-Bared.

Most likely things will come to a violent, emotional head Thursday as Hariri leads the third anniversary rally in memory of his assassinated father former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri at Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut. More than a million people are expected to attend at 10 am and there are still probably remnants of the tent city set up by the opposition since December 2006. Though Hariri is calling on his supporters to avoid any marches or processions, just attend the rally only, I can’t see how street fighting can be avoided since it already seems to have begun late last month. And as has stated for the past two years Iran-Syria are more interested in controlling Lebanon than in trying to re-claim the wasteland of the Golan Heights or the salt in the Dead Sea.

Willard Payne
Willard Payne is an international affairs analyst who specializes in International Relations. A graduate of Western Illinois University with a concentration in East-West Trade and East-West Industrial Cooperation, he has been providing incisive analysis to NewsBlaze. He is the author of Imagery: The Day Before.