Thursday, January 29, 2015

Israel Vows Retaliation After Hezbollah Kills Two IDF Soldiers

At LAT, "Deadly Hezbollah-Israel border clash raises specter of new conflict":

A fresh spasm of violence Wednesday along contested terrain between Israel and Lebanon looks ominously like the scenario that sparked the 2006 war between the two bitter adversaries, raising the prospect of another major conflict in the heart of the Middle East.

Israel acknowledged that a flurry of antitank missiles fired by Hezbollah had killed two of its soldiers and wounded seven, in the Lebanese militant and political movement's most lethal assault on Israeli forces since 2006.

Also killed, apparently by retaliatory Israeli fire into Lebanese territory, was a Spanish peacekeeper serving in the 10,000-strong United Nations force along the “Blue Line” separating Lebanese and Israeli lands.

But though the risk of a larger conflagration prompted international concern, with the U.N. urging all parties to exercise “maximum restraint” to avoid escalation, analysts in both countries said it appeared unlikely that Wednesday's attacks would morph from a limited border incident into a broader conflict.

The 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 erupted with a Hezbollah ambush on an Israeli patrol that resulted in the deaths of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that those responsible for the latest attack will “pay the full price,” citing the Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip last summer that claimed the lives of 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, and more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to international agencies.

“To those trying to challenge us on our northern border, I suggest looking at what happened not far from here in the Gaza Strip,” said Netanyahu, speaking in Sderot in southern Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is visiting China, said that Israel must react with “a harsh and disproportionate response” to any fire on its territory.

But analysts generally predicted that this time around Israeli and Hezbollah officials would endeavor to avoid having the incident deteriorate into a 2006-style conflict, an inconclusive war that caused considerable damage and loss of life, especially on the Lebanese side.

Many Israeli observers were doubtful that the nation's leaders, just months after the bloody Gaza conflict and weeks before national elections scheduled for March, would plunge the country into what probably would be a prolonged war with a battle-tested foe much more formidable than Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza.

“Israel must retaliate but in a way that will keep the escalation under control,” Amos Yadlin, a former army intelligence chief, told Israel Radio. “This is not an easy formula, but this is the art of strategic thinking.”

The strike Wednesday was not as lethal as the 2006 Hezbollah assault. That incident also resulted in the deaths of five additional Israeli soldiers in a failed rescue attempt.

The latest attack was widely seen as Hezbollah's calibrated response to a presumed Israeli airstrike in southern Syria on Jan. 18, in which the casualties included six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general, whose presence highlighted the Lebanese group's close ties to Tehran. Among the Hezbollah casualties was the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a storied commander killed in Damascus, Syria, in 2008 in a suspected Israeli car bombing.

After such a humiliating blow, experts said, Hezbollah's leaders felt obliged to strike back in a fashion that was muscular but not unduly provocative...