Israeli threats to unleash the dogs of war
Israel will target Lebanese civilian infrastructure during its next offensive against Hezballah, according to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Addressing Israeli army officials last Monday, Barak made clear that Tel Aviv would hold nothing back in any future conflict in Lebanon.
| “If Israel is attacked, we will not limit ourselves to only Hezballah targets”, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper quoted Barak as saying.|
He also reiterated previous Israeli threats that it would hold all of Lebanon responsible for any Hezballah attack.
“The government of Lebanon is responsible for everything Hezballah does”, Barak added. “The organization has an internal Lebanese identity, in addition to its well-known affiliation to Syria and Iran”.
Israel claims it avoided targeting civilian positions during the 2006 summer war following a tacit agreement with then-US President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, the 34-day assault hit Beirut International Airport, highways, bridges, power stations and other vital civilian infrastructure, causing billion of dollars of damage.
Barak also refused to rule out pre-emptive strikes against Iran, should international sanctions fail to stifle what Tel Aviv sees as Teheran’s designs on a nuclear weapons program. An Israeli attack on Iran could prompt responses from Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon -- Hezballah included -- according to some analysts.
Israel’s hawkish defense minister has previously warned that any provocation from Lebanon will be met with severe repercussions. Hezballah, for its part, maintains it is ready for another conflict whenever it comes, and its secretary-general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised “surprises” should hostilities restart. Last Tuesday, Israeli warplanes conducted practice aerial raids over parts of the South of Lebanon, including Nabatiyé and Iklim al-Toffah, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.
“The said planes performed mock raids at a low altitude, [reaching] to Marjayoun and Khiam”, the NNA added.
The latest incident to raise tensions along the UN-demarcated Blue Line -- the boundary of the Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon -- occurred on Sunday, January 31, when Israeli soldiers arrested a Lebanese shepherd, Rabih Mohammad Zahra, 17, as he tended a flock of sheep close to the disputed Shebaa Farms region.
He was returned to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and handed over to the Lebanese Army. Zahra claims he was beaten by Israeli soldiers and interrogated about Hezballah positions in South Lebanon.
Lebanon has filed a complaint to the UN about Zahra’s arrest, which it claims took place on its side of the Blue Line and is a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701 -- drafted to end the 2006 war -- which stipulates that Lebanon’s sovereign borders be respected.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said last week that Beirut was not doing enough to implement resolution 1701, as Hezballah and other non-state actors harbor weapons south of the Litany River, in violation of intentional law.
This promoted a riposte from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, which claimed that Israel was the main culprit in breaching conditions set by Resolution 1701.
“Israel has committed over 6,000 violations since 2006, the latest of which was the abduction of Mohammad Zahra from Lebanese territory on Sunday”, said a statement from the ministry’s media office.
Last Tuesday UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams, following a meeting with Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, said that the pair had discussed the implementation of Resolution 1701.
Williams told Berri that during a recent visit to Israel, “officials assured me that they still remain committed to the prevailing cessation of hostilities and to Security Council Resolution 1701”.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accused Lebanon of allowing Hezballah to develop its military force by smuggling weapons in violation of a UN resolution.
“We are worried about developments in Lebanon and the great flow of weapons, rockets and missiles in blatant violation of Resolution 1701”, Netanyahu told a press conference alongside his Berlusconi.
Hezballah is represented in the Lebanese cabinet by what is referred to as its political wing, the Bloc of Loyalty to the Resistance. The government was formed in November by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Netanyahu said he held the Lebanese government accountable.
“Hezballah is in the Lebanese government and is developing a military force under the government”, Netanyahu charged.
“These weapons are without doubt aimed at Israeli civilians”, said Netanyahu. “It is the responsibility of the Lebanese government to prevent attacks against Israel and its citizens”.
Berlusconi said he would raise the Israeli concerns when he met Hariri in Beirut later this month.
Israel and Hezballah fought a devastating war in 2006. Resolution 1701, which led to an end to the 34-day conflict, set mechanisms to stop arms smuggling into Lebanon.
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