BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Israel appeared Thursday to be seeking calm a day after clashes between the two raised concerns about another war erupting in the Middle East.
The volatile border zone was quiet, but both sides were on high alert after the fighting Wednesday that claimed the lives of two Israeli soldiers and a U.N. peacekeeper from Spain.Clashes in 2006 in the area led to a brief war that killed more than 1,000 people in Lebanon and 165 in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the violence on Iran, which is Hezbollah’s primary financial backer and weapons supplier.
“It is Iran that is responsible,” he said at a memorial Thursday for former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
“This is the same Iran that is now trying to achieve an agreement, via the major powers, that would leave it with the ability to develop nuclear weapons,” he said in an apparent criticism of U.S.-led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
The clashes followed weeks of rising tension between Israel and the powerful Shiite militia. On Jan. 18, Israel allegedly carried out an air raid in southern Syria that killed an Iranian commander and six Hezbollah fighters. One of the six was a son of Imad Mughniyah, a former top Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in 2008.
Apparently in revenge for the Syria strike, Hezbollah fired an antitank missile at Israeli vehicles Wednesday and then launched mortar rounds in the border zone, which is close to positions in Syria that are held by rebels.
Spain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Román Marchesi, blamed Israeli fire for the death of the Spanish peacekeeper, identified as Cpl. Francisco Toledo, 36.
“It was because of this escalation of violence, and it came from the Israeli side,” he said.
Analysts said the quiet that prevailed Thursday indicated that neither side wants an escalation.Hezbollah knows that the Israeli air force can easily pound Lebanese targets, while Israeli military officials understand that Hezbollah can fire rockets from Lebanon deep inside Israel, the analysts said.
“There was no interest on either side to get involved in an all-out war,” said Moshe Maoz, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Earlier Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said he was informed by the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon that Hezbollah wanted to refrain from an escalation “Indeed, a message was received,” he said during an interview with Army Radio, adding that the United Nations maintains indirect “lines of communication” between Israel and the Shiite militia group.
Yaalon’s assertion could not be verified, and Hezbollah officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Israeli military said seven of its troops were wounded in Wednesday’s hostilities.
The fighting took place in a contested area known as Shebaa Farms, which Hezbollah says belongs to Lebanon. The United Nations says it is Syrian. Israel refers to the area as Mount Dov and captured it during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 along with territories that include the Golan Heights and land wanted for a Palestinian state: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Eglash reported from Jerusalem. William Booth in Jerusalem contributed to this report.