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.
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Hezbollah, meanwhile, has made little effort to disguise the fact that it has rearmed and expanded its military capabilities in anticipation of a fresh conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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Hezbollah No. 2: We're stronger than in 2006
In a recent interview with the Monitor, Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's No. 2, said the group has absorbed and implemented the lessons learned from the 2006 war and has been "getting ready and prepared in case Israel launches an aggression against us."
"This is the shape of the Resistance at this stage," the white-turbaned cleric said. "Hezbollah is in a better condition than it was in July 2006. And if the Israelis think they will cause more damage against us, they know that we also can inflict more damage on them."
Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, on Sunday expanded the geographical scope of the threats.
"If, God forbid, one hair falls off the head of any Israeli representative abroad, or of even an Israeli who is not an official representative, tourists etc., we will consider Hezbollah responsible," he said.
It is not the first time both sides have engaged in a flurry of cross-border threats, however.
"We have witnessed many times Israeli threats and Hezbollah counter threats and then nothing happens," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese expert on Hezbollah.
Active weapons cache sparked saber-rattling
Tensions began to mount in mid-July when a series of powerful explosions shook this village set among steep hills in south Lebanon, 10 miles north of the border with Israel. The explosions emanated from a suspected Hezbollah arms cache in the basement of a two-story building on the side of a valley outside Khirbet Silm.
UNIFIL counted up to 60 separate blasts that caused extensive damage to the building, hurled unexploded ordnance up to 200 yards away, and sparked a brush fire on the valley slopes.
The explosions hardened a long-standing Israeli belief that Hezbollah has been stashing weapons in southern Lebanese villages in contravention of UN Resolution 1701. The resolution, which helped end the 2006 war, forbids "any armed personnel, assets and weapons" in the southern border zone other than those of the Lebanese state and UNIFIL.
Hezbollah said that the blasts were caused by an old stock of Israeli munitions left over from the 2006 war, and noted that Israel flouts Resolution 1701 on a near daily basis by flying jets and reconnaissance drones in Lebanese airspace – actions the UN has repeatedly criticized.
Exclusive details from forthcoming U.N. report
The Monitor has learned that the preliminary findings of a UNIFIL investigation into the incident, which is expected to be completed next week, concludes that the arms were generally old and had been stored there before the 2006 war. They included large quantities of 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortar tubes and rounds, a few 107mm Katyusha rockets and heavy machine gun rounds – all of which are used by Hezbollah. The cache additionally included old Israeli 155mm and 152mm artillery shells. Hezbollah does not possess artillery capable of firing those shells.
Still, UNIFIL found evidence that the facility was being guarded by Hezbollah militants, who control the surrounding area. Among the debris in the building, according to a UNIFIL officer, were mattresses, a military boot, a forklift truck for loading pallets of ammunition, a flatbed truck, and a sports utility vehicle.
In the past three years, UNIFIL on many occasions has discovered and removed old munitions, such as mortar shells and rockets, abandoned by Hezbollah after the 2006 war in rugged valleys along the border. But the incident in Khirbet Silm is the first evidence of an active arms cache in the UNIFIL area.
"The difference between the previous findings of arms is that this was, according to preliminary reports, an actively maintained ammunition depot," UNIFIL's Strugar says, adding it was a "serious violation" of Resolution 1701.