Liber­man: Hezbol­lah has swal­lowed up Le­banese Army

Fu­ture war would in­volve Syria and Le­banon, de­fense min­is­ter warns

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

Le­banon’s army has be­come an in­te­gral part of Hezbol­lah’s net­work, De­fense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Liber­man said on Tues­day, warn­ing that the next war on the northern border will not be con­fined to one front, but rather see con­flict with both Syria and Le­banon.

Ad­dress­ing sol­diers dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tory Sukkot event in his sukka at the Kirya mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in Tel Aviv, Liber­man warned that prepa­ra­tion for the next war was of great im­por­tance be­cause it will likely in­clude the Le­banese mil­i­tary along with Hezbol­lah.

“We’re talk­ing about Hezbol­lah and the Le­banese mil­i­tary and, un­for­tu­nately, this is the re­al­ity,” Liber­man said, adding that the Le­banese Army has lost its in­de­pen­dence and be­come an in­te­gral part of Hezbol­lah’s net­work.

“Even if the next cam­paign de­vel­ops – and it does not mat­ter where it de­vel­ops, in the North or South – it will im­me­di­ately be­come a bat­tle on two fronts,” the de­fense min­is­ter said.

“We are sup­posed to pre­pare for ev­ery pos­si­ble sce­nario, and the new re­al­ity also pre­pares new chal­lenges for us. If we once talked about the Le­banese sec­tor, then there is no more such a sec­tor. There is a northern sec­tor in ev­ery de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

Se­nior of­fi­cials from Is­rael’s de­fense es­tab­lish­ment have re­peat­edly stated that, while the chance for es­ca­la­tion on the border is low, the small­est in­ci­dent or a mis­cal­cu­la­tion by ei­ther side has the pos­si­bil­ity of lead­ing to con­flict.

“Our en­tire ef­fort is to pre­vent the next war. But in the ‘new Mid­dle East,’ the as­sess­ments we pre­vi­ously knew are sim­ply ir­rel­e­vant. The

re­al­ity is frag­ile. It can change from mo­ment to mo­ment, from to­day to to­mor­row,” he said.

“Who­ever wants peace must pre­pare for war. And I hope that our en­e­mies on the other side will think care­fully about ev­ery step taken against the State of Is­rael so that we will not have to demon­strate the full strength and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the IDF.”

Is­raeli of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Liber­man, have re­peat­edly voiced con­cern over the smug­gling of so­phis­ti­cated weaponry to Hezbol­lah and the grow­ing Ira­nian pres­ence on its bor­ders, stressing that both are red­lines for the Jewish State.

France and the United States have pro­vided Le­banon with ad­vanced weaponry. This past sum­mer, the Le­banese Armed Forces re­ceived 50 ar­mored ve­hi­cles, 40 ar­tillery pieces and 50 grenade launch­ers from the US as part of an aid pack­age to bol­ster the coun­try’s de­fenses against threats posed by ter­ror­ist groups.

Saudi Ara­bia in March halted its mil­i­tary aid pro­gram to Beirut after Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun de­fended Hezbol­lah’s arse­nal in an in­ter­view to on Egyp­tian TV, call­ing it “an es­sen­tial com­po­nent” of the means to de­fend Le­banon.

“Hezbol­lah weapons are not con­tra­dic­tory to the state, but are an es­sen­tial part in de­fend­ing the coun­try,” Aoun told Egypt’s CBC satel­lite chan­nel. “As long as a part of the ter­ri­tory is oc­cu­pied by Is­rael, and as long as the army is not pow­er­ful enough to fight Is­rael, we feel the need to main­tain the weapons of the re­sis­tance to com­ple­ment the army.”

Is­rael and Hezbol­lah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006 that came to an end un­der UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1701, which called for dis­ar­ma­ment of Hezbol­lah, with­drawal of the Is­raeli Army from Le­banon, de­ploy­ment of the Le­banese Army and an en­larged UN force in the South.

Ac­cord­ing to IDF as­sess­ments, Hezbol­lah has in­creased its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties as a re­sult of its fight­ing in Syria and has spread its troops across the en­tire Mid­dle East. In ad­di­tion to a mas­sive arse­nal of rock­ets and mis­siles, Hezbol­lah is able to mo­bi­lize al­most 30,000 fight­ers and has flouted its tun­nel sys­tem, com­plete with ven­ti­la­tion, elec­tric­ity and rocket launch­ers.

Some 200 vil­lages in south Le­banon have been turned in “mil­i­tary strongholds” from where Hezbol­lah fight­ers are able to ob­serve Is­raeli sol­diers at any mo­ment.

On Satur­day, Le­banon’s Al-Akhbar news­pa­per re­ported that se­cu­rity ser­vices had ar­rested three men who were al­legedly gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence on Hezbol­lah and pass­ing it to the Mos­sad. •

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