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Israel, Hezbollah threaten war – again

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah hurled the latest warning on Friday, a month after 60 blasts at a suspected Hezbollah weapons cache in southern Lebanon heightened tensions.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 15, 2009

Khirbet Silm, south Lebanon

Israel and its arch foe Hezbollah are waging an increasingly heated war of words, fanning concerns about another bruising encounter between the two enemies who fought a devastating but inconclusive conflict in 2006.

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In a keynote speech Friday night marking the third anniversary of that war's end, Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah outlined his strategy for Lebanon to deter Israel from launching another offensive. Responding to Israeli threats to flatten southern Lebanese villages and infrastructure, he vowed to attack Tel Aviv if Israel targeted Beirut or its southern suburbs, where Hezbollah's headquarters are.

"We are now capable of attacking any city or village throughout Israel," he said, dismissing recent Israeli threats against Hezbollah as psychological warfare. "When Israelis talk a lot, it means that they will do nothing. However, when they are silent like a snake we have to be cautious." Nasrallah's comments, delivered via a live video feed to a crowd of flag-waving supporters and invited politicians, were the latest in a month-long barrage of threats from both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border.

The saber-rattling, touched off in mid-July by explosions near an alleged Hezbollah weapons cache here in the hills of south Lebanon, seems driven more by a fear that the other side will take action, than a desire to launch a fresh round of fighting, say analysts and United Nations peacekeepers here.

"Contrary to the talk, the situation on the ground in our area of operations is generally quiet," says Milos Strugar, senior advisor to the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL, which patrols the southern Lebanon border district. "In our contacts with all the parties, they reiterate to us their interest in upholding the cessation of hostilities."

Israel fears retaliation for assassination

That Israeli media has reflected concerns that Hezbollah may be planning an attack against Israel in revenge for the slaying of Imad Mughniyah, the group's top military commander, in a car bomb assassination in Damascus in February last year. There was no claim of responsibility for the assassination, but Hezbollah has blamed Israel. There have been reports over the past year of foiled revenge attacks against Israeli targets in Central Asia and Africa.

The warnings have cast a cloud over what has been a bumper summer tourist season for Lebanon with more than 1 million visitors recorded in July in a country with a population of only 4 million.

On Thursday, Israeli President Shimon Peres called Hezbollah a "curse" and accused it of "destroying" Lebanon and "bringing calamity" upon the Lebanese through its subservience to Iran.

Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that in the next war Israel would bomb Lebanese infrastructure. Sheikh Hisham Safieddine, a top Hezbollah official, responded that if Barak commits a "foolish act" in Lebanon, the next war would make the 2006 conflict "look like a joke."