Israel and its Shiite Muslim foes in south Lebanon have an unspoken common interest. This was reflected in Israel's latest military actions in the area, analysts say. Both Israel and Lebanon's Shiite Amal militia are trying to keep radical groups and Palestinian guerrillas out of the Israel-Lebanon border zone and prevent cross-border attacks.
This means that Israel's raid Wednesday on three Lebanese villages was aimed primarily at Amal's radical rivals and was intended to weaken them in their struggle with Amal, analysts here say.
At the same time, they say, the raid was also a sign to Amal that Israel holds Amal responsible for the Shiite areas in south Lebanon, and that if Amal does not impose order, Israeli reprisals will follow.
Amal's adversaries in south Lebanon are attacking Israel as part of their struggle with Amal over control of the border zone, and Israel is worried that the guerrilla war in south Lebanon will spread across its northern border. The fate of the security zone, which is to serve as a buffer for Israel's northern settlements, may well hang on the outcome of the battle between Amal and its rivals.
Armored Israeli troops swept through the south Lebanese villages of Qabrikha, Majdel Silim, and Shaqra on Wednesday after three Katyusha rockets crashed into northern Israel over the weekend. It was the largest Israeli operation in the area since Israel announced its withdrawal in June. Israeli troops rounded up villagers for questioning and confiscated caches of arms and ammunition.
Israel's northern commander, Maj. Gen. Ori Orr, said the move was intended to reassure Israel's northern settlements. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said it was a signal to Amal that Israel will ``not tolerate'' expansion of guerrilla attacks on Israel from the Israeli-maintained security strip.
Sources in south Lebanon say the attacks are perpetrated mainly by the radical Shiite Hizbullah (Party of God) and communist parties. Israeli analysts point to Palestinian and leftist groups affiliated with the pro-Syrian Baath and Syrian Socialist National parties.
The radical groups are challenging Amal by attacking the security zone from the north and trying to shoot rockets into Israel, with the aim of involving Amal in the anti-Israeli attacks, the sources say.
Though Amal is believed to be behind the daily attacks on the Israeli-backed the South Lebanon Army inside the security zone, Amal opposes the tactics of the radical groups, according to the sources.
The sources say Amal sees action within the zone as necessary resistance against a form of Israeli occupation. But Amal fears that attacks on the zone or on Israel would invite Israeli reprisals on Shiite villages and could cause a mass Shiite exodus.
Amal also reportedly fears that attacks on the security zone from areas evacuated by Israel will provide a pretext for perpetuating the Israeli presence there, on grounds it provides a necessary buffer against hostilities.
On the other hand, the sources say, Amal believes attacks within the zone will lead to disintegration of the SLA, convince Israel that it can no longer rely on that force, and leave the field open for Amal control of the border zone.
Amal forces have reportedly tried to evict Hizbullah members from the border zone. They have also tried to block attacks on Israel by Palestinian guerrillas and prevent their reestablishment there. An indication of this is Amal's reported detention in Tyre of 60 Palestinians who were in a group of 113 Arab prisoners released by Israel Wednesday. The prisoners were taken during Israel's occupation of Lebanon.
The Palestinians have responded with redoubled efforts to infiltrate the border area. On Thursday the Israeli Navy captured a guerrilla yacht headed for Sidon. The guerrillas planned to enter and attack northern Israel from south Lebanon, according to an Army communiqu'e.