Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nicholas Blanford, "Who fired on Israel from Lebanon?" Ya LIbnan, January 9, 2009.

[The Israeli's do understand "proportionate response." -jlt]

Beirut - Lebanon's traditionally volatile border with Israel reprised its role as a bellwether of Israeli-Arab tensions Thursday morning as unknown militants fired at least three Katyusha rockets into Israel.

  Lebanon heads to the polls in June for knife-edge parliamentary elections.

It was the third such attack since the end of Israel's 2006 Lebanon war. The first two attacks involved a number of 107-mm Katyusha rockets, which have a range of seven miles, but were poorly executed — some did not explode, one did not make it across the border, and one did not even leave the launcher.

This time, however, the rocket attack showed a greater level of proficiency. Larger-caliber 122-mm rockets, with a range of 12 miles, were employed and carefully aimed at Nahariyah, a coastal town six miles south of the Lebanon border with a population of 50,000. Two Israeli civilians were slightly hurt when one of the rockets struck the roof of a nursing home.

The intention appears to be to keep Israel on edge along its northern border without eliciting a disproportionate reaction. Indeed, Israel's response to the Katyusha attack — firing a few artillery shells into a deserted valley in southern Lebanon — neatly fits within the finely calibrated rules that define violence and retaliation along the border, rules tacitly observed by both Israel and Hezbollah, the radical Shi'ite group that dominates much of Lebanon. Israel's artillery shelling was a step up from no response at all — which was how Israel greeted the two earlier rocket attacks. But it was sufficiently limited to deny Hezbollah a pretext to respond in kind. "I don't think it will get worse than that," says Timur Goksel, university lecturer in Beirut and former long-serving official with the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. "You don't open a second front with a couple of Katyusha rockets."

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