Israel-Hizballah prisoner swap heralds fresh violence, warns expert

Thursday, July 17, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

A leading Israeli expert on Arab affairs warned on Wednesday that Israel's decision to meet Hizballah demands for the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers will result in renewed conflict.

"This is a great victory for Hizballah... we have crowned [Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah as the only man in Lebanon who can achieve anything," said Bar-Ilan University Professor Moti Kedar in an interview with Army Radio.

Kedar noted that Hizballah and its ally, newly installed Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, have already laid the groundwork for the next round of violence by redirecting attention to what they call Israel's continued occupation of Lebanese territory.

In addition to the long-disputed Shebaa Farms region of the Golan Heights, Hizballah officials now say they also seek the "liberation" of seven Shiite Muslim villages across northern Israel.

The Israeli army has been on heightened alert along the northern border since the start of the week amid intelligence reports indicating that Hizballah intends to renew hostilities against the Jewish state soon.

The Lebanese terror group is likely to have more support for attacking Israel now than when it launched the 2006 border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War.

Many Arab leaders and commentators in Lebanon and across the Middle East harshly criticized Hizballah for starting the war, noting the tremendous price that Lebanon as a nation paid. But with the success of Wednesday's prisoner exchange, those same detractors turned out to participate in Hizballah victory celebrations, acknowledging that the terror group's methods had indeed produced results.

Meanwhile, the results of a poll conducted while the prisoner swap was taking place revealed that Nasrallah is now the most admired Arab leader in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirate and his native Lebanon.

Twenty-six percent of respondents chose Nasrallah, while the second most popular Arab leader, Syrian President Bashar Assad, garnered 16 percent of the vote. Nasrallah, the leader of a Shiite movement, was even the favorite in predominantly Sunni countries like Egypt and Jordan.

The survey was conducted by the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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