by David Harris
JERUSALEM, April 29 (Xinhua) -- Given the legal, political, diplomatic and journalistic focus on relations between Israel and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah Shiite militant organization, the two sides showed a sign of being on the verge of yet another summer confrontation.
The verbal spar over heavy arms falling into the hands of Hezbollah was added to by the controversy surrounding a court case in Cairo and comments this week by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
While analysts have different opinions about the possibility of a showdown in the foreseeable future, some are more concerned that the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process would add fuel to the simmering tension between Hezbollah and Israel.
"I would just say that, from our vantage point, Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with rockets and missiles of ever- increasing capability," Gates said during a joint news conference on Tuesday with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak.
"We are at a point now where Hezbollah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world, and this is obviously destabilizing for the whole region, and so we're watching it very carefully," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
His comments came after Israel suggested earlier this month that Hezbollah may now be in possession of Syrian-made Scud missiles.
There is a fear in Israel and the West that Hezbollah is being rearmed at the behest of Iran. Tehran, Israeli foreign policy experts argue, is looking for a deterrent to ensure that it will not be attacked by Israel or the United States, which both believe Iran is continuing to develop a nuclear weapons program.
"In any event, it is all but assured that a war on Israel's northern front will be determined, at least in part, by Tehran," said a report released by Middle East Strategic Information, an Israeli independent institute for policy research.
"EGYPT IS A SEPARATE ISSUE"
Meanwhile, another development in Egypt this week may have added further tension to the mix.
A Cairo court convicted on Wednesday 26 men said to be allied with Hezbollah. It handed down sentences of up to 15 years for what Egypt says was their role in various plots against foreign interests on Egyptian soil.
Among the accusations - the "Hezbollah cell" as they are called in Egypt - was planning on attacking tourist areas in the Sinai Peninsula, with the targets presumed to be Israelis.
"I wouldn't tie this to the latest developments between Syria, Lebanon and Israel," said Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
While he does not see this as affecting Hezbollah's policy towards Israel, he does view it as significant in Egypt's relationships in the Levant.
Cairo dispatched its Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit to Beirut this week to smooth over any ruffled feathers in the wake of the court's verdict and sentences.
There has been no love lost between Cairo and Tehran for many years, and Cairo sees Iran as Hezbollah's backer, Kam explained. The trial should be seen more within the framework of the Egyptian- Syrian-Iranian triangle than in the context of Israeli-Lebanese relations, Kam said on Thursday.