JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli officials warned Sunday that the fall of the moderate Lebanese government could lead to the establishment of an Iranian proxy state on Israel’s northern border and increase the probability of war between the two nations.
While stressing the need not to intervene in Lebanon’s internal affairs, Israeli officials said they should do all they can to bolster Lebanon’s embattled pro-Western prime minister, Fouad Siniora, as he faced off against Hezbollah and its pro-Iranian allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opened the weekly Cabinet meeting by saying it was important for Lebanon to remain stable. “We know which organizations and elements are trying to topple the government of Lebanon,” he said.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he instructed military intelligence to closely follow the recent developments in Lebanon.
Masses of Hezbollah supporters have staged daily protests in Beirut since Friday demanding the resignation of Siniora and his government. Siniora and his supporters call the campaign a coup attempt led by neighboring Syria and its ally Iran, a stance echoed by Washington.
The Iranian influence is especially worrying to Israel, which considers Iran an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas waged a 34-day war this summer, and Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, the former head of military intelligence, warned that a resignation of the Lebanese government would increase the probability of a repeat next summer. “I have no doubt that if this government loses its power, and there is a shift there, the northern front might heat up again and there could be even more escalation than there was this year,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
Israeli politicians voiced support for Siniora but warned against intervening. “I think that Israel should support the more pragmatic powers in the Arab world,” said Education Minister Yuli Tamir.
Some have suggested making gestures, such as withdrawing from the contested Chebaa Farms area and the divided town of Ghajar. But Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai dismissed those notions and said Israel must prepare for a possibility of a coup in Lebanon.
Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit echoed those concerns. “If the Siniora government falls, it means that Lebanon will be controlled by the long arm of Iran,” he said.