Pressure on Iran, Syria Prompt Israeli Security Alert
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli forces along the northern border were on high alert Monday against the possibility of Hizballah terror attacks ahead of increasing international pressure on Iran and Syria, said a senior source in Jerusalem.
The International Atomic Energy Agency -- the United Nations' nuclear watchdog -- referred the issue of Iran's nuclear development to the U.N. Security Council last week, angering Tehran.
The U.S., Israel and much of the Western world believe that Iran is hiding a secret atomic weapons project under cover of its civilian nuclear program.
Adding to the pressure on Syria, the head of the official investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to turn over his report to the United Nations this week.
Senior Syrian officials have been implicated in the massive bomb attack that killed Hariri and some 20 others. Investigators have said the attack could not have taken place without the approval of senior Syrian officials.
"That is why March is a critical security month [for Israel]," said prime ministerial advisor Dr. Ra'anan Gissin.
Syria and Iran, acting through Hizballah, could wage attacks and other provocations along the border in an effort to "get the heat off their back," Gissin said in a telephone interview on Monday.
Hizballah is supported by Syria and is financed by Iran. On the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, Hizballah reportedly possesses an estimated 10,000 rockets capable of reaching major Israeli population centers.
(Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi army in Iraq, reportedly made an unofficial and unannounced visit to Tehran last week.)
"Iran believes at this stage, when there are discussions in the U.N. and it faces the possibility of sanctions, Iran wants to throw the ball back into the courtyard," said Gissin.
Hizballah also is feeling the pressure, said Gissin, because Lebanese lawmakers are discussing the possibility of giving up their claim to a small piece of territory known as Shebaa Farms, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
Hizballah has used Shebaa Farms, among other things, as a pretext to maintain its armed struggle against Israel.
If the Lebanese government decided to give up its claim to Shebaa Farms, Hizballah would have no reason to exist as a militia in the area, said Gissin.
"All these developments have a direct impact on the security situation on [Israel's] northern border," said Gissin. It also gives Iran greater leverage in the Palestinian territories, he added.
The Israeli security alert also follows reports in the Lebanese media over the weekend that Lebanese security forces recently arrested four Lebanese and four Palestinians with suspected links to al Qaeda.
The group is believed to have been responsible for rocket attacks on the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona in December. A large weapons cache including missiles, rockets and explosives was also discovered hidden in caves and on property owned by those arrested.
In Metulla, a small Israeli town located on the northern border, tensions were running high on Monday.
Farmers were advised not to work in their fields along the border, said Dubi Amitai, the official in charge of security.
There is tension but everything is routine in Metulla, said Amitai by telephone. "It is very pretty and quiet...The children are on the streets and all [Purim] events are being held."
The Israeli army heightened its level of alert along the northern border with Lebanon ahead of the Jewish Purim holiday and Israeli elections, the army said.
Israel also closed the Palestinian territories, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel from the West Bank or Gaza for the duration of Purim, which begins Monday evening and runs for three days.
Purim is the holiday described in the Biblical book of Esther, which celebrates the victory of the Jews over a Persian official, who tried to trick the king into decreeing that all the Jews should be killed.
Children (and adults) mark the holiday with costumes and parades. In the evening, the entire story of the book of Esther is read in the synagogues.
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