Hizbullah might not have fired the first bullet on Sunday. Indeed it might have been Israel that initiated the clashes by killing the Islamic Jihad official, and then retaliating against Hizbullah positions after the rocket attacks. But Israel's military response, even aggression if you prefer, shows how misguided and delusional Hizbullah's "defense strategy" is, and how incapable it is of fighting Israel, let alone protecting Lebanon.
Hizbullah's "balance of terror" strategy failed miserably this past weekend. And so did their other strategy of snatching soldiers. The Israelis have learned their lesson and were waiting for the smug Shia militants to make their move. Israeli sources are claiming that at least 3 Hizbullah fighters died trying to kidnap
Israeli soldiers. Hizbullah was also helpless in maintaining its monitoring posts along the border, vacating them shortly before the Israeli fire power destroyed them. Hizbullah's last minute show of power, when it decided to shower an Israeli base in the Galilee with rockets 5 minutes before cease fire took effect, was a pathetic attempt for the party to display their might during the lull. Israel was not impressed and reportedly held back.
Hizbullah's prowess in the 1990s came from its guerrilla status: effective hit and run operations, often suicide bombings, that inflicted psychological and bodily damage on the IDF and its weak proxy militia, the SLA. After Israel's withdrawal, Hizbullah's war zone changed, and so did the rules of the game. There is no way today for Hizbullah to follow similarly effective tactics. Nasrallah complained recently that he has not been able to liberate Shebaa because of the lack of support among the Lebanese public. I doubt that this is the case. Shebaa is, as far as Israel is concerned, part of Israel. Hizbullah might as well try to liberate Jerusalem before thinking that it can bomb Shebaa to liberation. In fact, with suicide bombings impossible, Hizbullah can only bomb the hills of Shebaa. But by doing that, the party of God stops being a guerrilla group, and becomes a regular army engaged in protracted conflict with another albeit more powerful army.
That is why the reasoning behind their strategy is faulty. Whatever effectiveness and advantages gained from their guerilla status has been lost after Israel's withdrawal. Hizbullah cannot claim to possess the secret to defeating the Israeli army. They don't. Not anymore at least.
Faced with this situation, Hizbullah has opened another front with Israel, inside Israel and the occupied territories. Its logistical and financial support for Palestinian groups is one facet of their war against the jewish state. By making that choice, Hizbullah's "defense strategy" becomes offensive, with the goal now being obsessively fighting Israel and not necessarily defending Lebanese interests. For Lebanese interests, given the regional situation, the relationship with the Assad regime as well as the volatile political situation in the Palestinian territories, are not served by supporting militant groups in Palestine. Israel has caught onto this, assassinating 3 officials so far who were acting as liaisons between Hizbullah and Palestinian militants. Two belonged to Hizbullah: Ali Saleh, assassinated August 2, 2003 and Ghaleb Awali, assassinated July 19, 2004. The latest assassination was Friday, when the Islamic Jihad official Mahmoud al-Majzoub was killed in a car bomb. Majzoub was reportedly responsible for coordinating operations in the occupied territories. He most likely had strong links with Hizbullah, having made Sidon and Beirut his headquarters.
Even if we subscribe to the notion that fighting or "resisting" Israel should be our national interest, serving that interest is not the job of a guerrilla organization acting like an army but posing as “resistance” to an occupation that legally no longer exists. It should be the state's decision, based on national consensus in the population, which Hizbullah no longer enjoys. They might have grown in strength, but they shrunk back to their sectarian militia size over the past year.
Hizbullah is on its way today to not only become Lebanon's de-facto second army, now with long-range missiles and equipment that the national army does not have, but a state with borders. This is ironic, considering that Hizbullah and its sympathisers often accuse Israel of trying to divide the country into sectarian cantons. What the party of God is doing now is exactly that: it is establishing a de-facto self rule area with its own laws and, I should add, own war to sustain its existence.