As life returned to normal in Kiryat Shmona, following a rocket attack in the Galilee town Tuesday that killed a teen-age boy, Israeli ground forces continued to mass along the border with Lebanon.
But the show of force was seen as more of a warning to the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah than a mobilization for an incursion into southern Lebanon.
With Washington urging restraint, Israeli officials tried to strike a delicate balance between showing stiff resolve in the face of Hezbollah violence and taking provocative actions that could escalate the confrontation with the Iranian-backed organization.
Israeli officials were mindful of the fact that Tuesday’s rocket attack occurred only after Israeli forces began bombing and shelling Lebanese positions, in retaliation for the ambush attack on an Israeli army convoy Sunday that left five soldiers dead.
The military establishment appears to agree with a number of senior reserve officers, who have suggested that Israel, for the moment, allow the Hezbollah the dubious honor of firing the last shot, rather than engage in escalation.
In Kiryat Shmona, meanwhile, children returned to school and adults returned to work Wednesday after a night spent in shelters and reinforced rooms. They appeared to be demonstrating a determination to see the situation through, in contrast to flights from the town that were prompted by Katyusha attacks in the past.
Delegates to the Jewish Agency Assembly in Jerusalem and tourists from the Netherlands were among those who traveled to the border town Wednesday as a demonstration of solidarity with its inhabitants.
Tuesday’s blast left 14-year-old Vadim Shuchman dead and wounded his father, sister and infant nephew. The family had arrived here two years ago from Ukraine, which, ironically, has sold Iran most of the weapons used by Hezbollah, analysts said.
A 19-year-old neighbor of the Shuchmans, himself a recent immigrant, said missiles were respected in the former Soviet Union as a sign of the might of the Red Army.
“Now that I’ve been on the receiving end, I don’t find the Katyusha much source for pride,” he told Israel Radio. But he added: “That’s not a reason for Soviet Jews not to immigrate to Israel.”
For the past three months, Hezbollah operations have been supplied by a massive shipment of arms from Iran that were purchased mostly in the Ukraine, the newspaper Ha’aretz reported.
They include Sager missiles, rocket-launchers, Katyusha rockets, Howitzer guns and hundreds of mines.
Together with the equipment, Iran sent military experts to train Hezbollah fighters in the use of the weapons in southern Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley.
An Israeli air bombardment in mid-May on operational headquarters of the Hezbollah in the Shi’ite village of Jibchit killed an Iranian intelligence agent masquerading as a newsman, the report said.
The agent was helping to plan attacks on the Israeli buffer zone, in the interest of capturing a large number of Israeli soldiers, who could be traded in a prisoner exchange for a Moslem cleric held by Israel, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, and two others being held by the Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army.
Five Iranian military experts also met their deaths in the Israeli bombardment.
Iranian intelligence agents are found in the military, cultural and welfare institutions of the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, the Ha’aretz report said.
But Likud Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu put the blame for the recent Hezbollah attacks squarely on Syria.
“Not that they control every action, but they have the power to veto all actions,” he told members of B’nai B’rith’s delegation to the Jewish Agency Assembly in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Netanyahu said the proof was that during the recent parliamentary elections in Lebanon, the border region was totally quiet, because it was in Syrian interest to maintain quiet.
“Had I been the premier now,” he said, “I would have ordered our delegation back from the Washington peace talks.”
The delegation was meeting with members of the Lobby Against Withdrawal From the Golan, a parliamentary group that also includes Knesset member Avigdor Kahalani of Labor.
Kahalani, a former brigadier general who won bravery medals for his contribution to Israel’s victory in the Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, used strong language to justify Israel retaining control of the strategic plateau.
“I just don’t trust the Syrians. They don’t want us to remain in this area,” he said.
Reactions to the briefing were mixed among the members of the B’nai B’rith delegation. Kent Schiner, the group’s international president, said the briefings were “very enlightening,” and that they had cast “new light” on his thinking on the problem.
It is the first time B’nai B’rith has participated as a voting delegation at the Jewish Agency Assembly, with eight members representing different parts of the world.