Israeli Strikes: Behind the Scenes

Israel's Easter weekend airstrikes on a mountain radar station manned by some of Syria's troops in Lebanon is a new episode in a long struggle between Israel and the Lebanon-based and Iranian-supported Hezbollah, or Party of God, guerrilla organization.

The struggle began in Lebanon during the 1980s, when Hezbollah and its Shiite Muslim followers and allies captured foreign civilian and military hostages during Lebanon's 1976-1990 civil war.

The Iranian-inspired and financed group at first mainly fought Israeli occupation troops in southern Lebanon.

But since Israel pulled its troops out of south Lebanon last year, Hezbollah has not only continued occasional attacks along the newly redefined and United Nations-marked border, but has also extended its operations, Israeli analysts say, inside the Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas.

The weekend Israeli airstrikes on the Syrian radar position in central Lebanon were partial fulfillment of previous Israeli threats to hit Syrian troops if Hezbollah attacks continued.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has accused Hezbollah and other extremist groups, including the Islamic Palestinian resistance groups HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, of being supplied with Syrian-protected shipments of arms and cash from Iran.

Behind the Times

Syria, whose own military forces are under-equipped and mostly a generation behind Israel's in technology, has not directly challenged the Israeli military since 1982.

Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud voiced concern about a possible "general confrontation" if Israeli attacks inside Lebanon continue. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri echoed wider Arab denunciations of Israel's "warlike" acts.

However, Hariri is also mindful of growing sentiment inside Lebanon's mainly Christian minority about the continuing Syrian troop presence in Lebanon.

Earlier this month, Hariri voiced serious doubts about the wisdom of Hezbollah's continued border operations against the Jewish State. He said the operations endangered Lebanon's security.

Standing Firm

According to the Counter-Terrorism Institute, an Israeli think tank based in Netaniya, Israel, after Israeli troops left south Lebanon last May, Hezbollah ratcheted up its presence in the frontier region.

The institute says Hezbollah has deployed additional fighters, installed long-range rockets and continues to hold three Israeli soldiers they kidnapped several months ago.

Israel also charges that Hezbollah agents helped recruit cells of Israeli Arabs for terrorism inside Israel and that operatives are bring sent into Israel with foreign passports.

In 1997, Steven Smyrek, a German citizen who had converted to Islam, was arrested at Tel Aviv airport. Israeli authorities said he was on a terrorist mission under Hezbollah orders.

Western and Israeli intelligence sources say Iran and Hezbollah, separately and together, train members of HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, in Iran and Lebanon, with Syrian approval and logistic support.

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