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Al Qaeda takes aim at Israel

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"Zarqawi has tried to attack Israeli targets for a long time. We know for a fact that Al Qaeda has been pondering attacking inside the Israeli border, so it's nothing new, but we should see it as part of a trend," says Yoram Schweitzer, an expert on Al Qaeda at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

"The reaction in Lebanon shows that even Hizbullah is a little bit frustrated," he adds, "not that they mind Israel being attacked, but they don't like anyone else trying to control their territory."

Indeed, the attempt of Al Qaeda operatives to gain ground in southern Lebanon, which has long been a magnet for militant groups, appears to have irked Hizbullah, or the Party of God, the primary military and political organization controlling the south of the country.

Hizbullah has moved toward a sort of hostile quiet with Israel during the more than five years since Israel withdrew from its occupied "security zone" in Lebanon.

It appears likely, many observers say, that the attacks were perpetrated by Palestinian militants who would like to link their agenda with Al Qaeda's.

Although Shiite Hizbullah, backed by Iran, tends to have good relations with mainstream Sunni groups in Lebanon, it is very worried about the emergence and spread of militant Sunni ideology and has been keeping a close eye on its presence in Lebanon.

"There are some [operatives] in Lebanon," says Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general in an interview with The Monitor. "We don't know how many and we don't know their plans or if they intend to do [military] operations here," he says.

"It's important to caution everyone not to make Lebanon an arena for settling scores," he adds. "It will be a dangerous development if that happens."

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