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MIDDLE EAST: Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah rattle sabers

August 7, 2009 |  7:35 am

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Israel and Hezbollah are at it again.

In a thinly veiled warning to the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated on Thursday the Israeli position that all of Lebanon would pay dearly for any attack launched from its territory.

"If there is a conflict on our northern border, we will use all necessary force," Barak told Israeli public radio.

“What happened in the second Lebanon war will not happen again,” he said, indicating that Israel would target even more of Lebanon’s infrastructure.

Hezbollah's international relations officer, Ammar Moussawi, responded to Barak's comments, warning that any Israeli attack on Lebanon "won't be a picnic," according to Al Manar, the party's TV station.

Hezbollah did not release an official statement, but its website prominently featured a piece by Ibrahim Al-Amin, a journalist considered close to Hezbollah. Writing for the left-leaning daily Al-Akhbar today, Al-Amin dismissed Israel’s threats as “messages to buy calm, not war.”

“This is based on Israel’s fears of Hezbollah possessing weapons that can tip the balance, namely an air defense system capable of crippling the Israeli Air Force,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, all the war talk has renewed fears among many in the Levant of another conflict breaking out. The July 2006 war between Israel and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 Lebanese and 150 Israelis. Over 34 days, Israel also did extensive damage to Lebanon’s infrastructure, targeting bridges, roads, the Beirut International Airport, Lebanon’s largest dairy farm and the Jiyyeh coastal power plant that spilled some 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean, as well as significant portions of Dahiyeh, a residential area south of Beirut.

While Al-Amin lamented that “as the likelihood of an all-out confrontation increases, the options narrow” until a hugely destructive war seems inevitable, he emphasized the party’s readiness to confront any Israeli attack.

He concluded by taunting Israel: 

We are not talking about direct threats here. Israel has known for some time that the resistance [Hezbollah] possesses rockets that can reach every house in Tel Aviv. But the question is in regards to the deterrent effect of this threat. If Israel decides on a limited, surprise strike against the resistance in Lebanon or a selective, localized one, then Hezbollah will strike back even harder. And if the matter escalates, it will quickly turn into the Dahiyeh-Tel Aviv equation…Is Israel ready for this game? Does it really know what's on Hezbollah's mind, and what could the jewel in the Israeli crown [the military] do about it?”

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: A screenshot from a Hezbollah website shows a photograph of Israeli military vehicles. Credit: Meris Lutz / For the Times