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MIDDLE EAST: Israel, Hezbollah in warning war

November 11, 2009 |  9:06 pm

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Israel keeps an eye on its northern neighbor. An ear, too. After a long silence during which multiple espionage rings were uncovered in Lebanon, Israel informed the United Nations that it would continue to gather intelligence in Lebanon so long as the government isn't in full control of its territory. 

This was Israel's answer to an official Lebanese petition to the U.N. after the discovery in late October of suspected Israeli listening devices in southern Lebanon. A few days later, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon also confirmed that Israel was gathering intelligence. When Hezbollah is disarmed and the border becomes one of peace, we will stop, he said.

Hezbollah isn't disarming. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 called for the Lebanese government to extend its control over all Lebanese territory and for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. That's not happening. Hezbollah is holding both ends of the stick, entering the political and governmental system while holding on to its arms.

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And they're not just holding on. Israel has long maintained that the organization has more than restored its arsenal and strength to the levels of before the war in 2006.  This week, Israeli army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Hezbollah has rockets with a 320 km range that can reach far into Israel's south and warned of the misleading calm. 

A day later, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah corrected him, saying that all of Israel is within range and informed Ashkenazi (along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Obama) that they could send in the entire Israeli army next time, and it would only be destroyed.

Israel says that the quiet is deceptive and that under the surface -- sometimes literally -- Hezbollah is building itself up for the next round. Lebanon, for its part, has told the U.N. that Israel appears to be poised for an imminent attack.

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The U.N., to which Israel and Lebanon constantly file complaints, is also monitoring the situation closely. The latest secretary-general's report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which  ended the war three years ago,  said that "both Israel and Lebanon remain committed to its full implementation," but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said that a series of violations highlighted its fragility and potential to deteriorate. 

Michael Williams, special U.N. coordinator to Lebanon, told the Security Council that Israel was violating the resolution with overflights that constitute an "intrusive regime of aerial surveillance." In a separate recent discussion on Resolution 1559, it was said behind closed doors that Hezbollah was the one destabilizing the region.

Resolution 1701 isn't doing so well in other respects either. The gun-running, for example. Last week, the Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying hundreds of tons of rockets and other arms, which it maintained were an Iranian shipment intended to reach Hezbollah via Syria. The three denied it and accused Israel of piracy. For a long time Israel has accused Iran of arming Hezbollah and running guns to the organization through Syria (which also comes up constantly in context of peace talks with Syria). Satisfied with catching at least one end red-handed, Israeli officials briefed dozens of diplomats and military attaches on the operation and displayed the munitions removed from the ship.
One week later, the Israeli army and Ministry of Foreign Affairs published extensive documentation on "Iran's complicity in arms smuggling to terrorists," such as mortar fuses that Israel says are manufactured exclusively by the Iranian armament industry and the ship's manifest showing that the cargo originated in Iran.
  

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Top photo: Rockets found aboard the Antigua-flagged Francop.

Middle photo: Polyethylene, made in Iran, used to line containers and conceal munitions.

Bottom photo: Ministry of Sepah (the body in charge of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps) labels attached to cargo.

Credit: Israel Defense Forces

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