Netanyahu downplays threat of war in North

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August 12, 2009 00:24
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While Israel is prepared for all emerging threats in the Middle East - including Hizbullah, and Iran's nuclear program - there are "no winds of war blowing" along the northern border, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday during a visit to the Hatzerim Air Force Base, east of Beersheba. Netanyahu was accompanied by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan. "We do not see anything special up there," Netanyahu told reporters. "There are no winds of war blowing. This is a storm created by the media." The prime minister's calming remarks came a day after he warned Lebanon that it would pay a heavy price if Hizbullah attacked Israel. Concerns in Israel are that the Shi'ite group is planning an attack on Israeli targets abroad, particularly in Sinai. A plot to assassinate Ambassador Shalom Cohen in Cairo was recently thwarted by Egyptian security services. At Hatzerim, Netanyahu heard briefings on IAF operations and inspected a number of aircraft, including the Hercules C-130 transport plane that his brother Yoni flew on to Entebbe, Uganda, where he died saving Air France hostages in 1976. The prime minister sat in the cockpit of an F-15I, Israel's strategic long-arm fighter jet that would be used in the event of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. He refrained from directly referring to the Iranian threat, but told reporters that his visit to Hatzerim was an opportunity to view the IAF's "powerful contribution to Israel's security." During the visit, Barak said the IDF was preparing "operationally, mentally and professionally" for a wide-range of challenges. "Israel is facing unbelievable security challenges as well as diplomatic opportunities," he said. "We see here before us, the IDF's capabilities, preparations and self confidence." Hizbullah responded to Netanyahu's remarks, warning that it was stronger today than before the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Speaking to Iranian television, Ammar Mousawi, Hizbullah's foreign relations chief, said that Israel was trying to cause a split in Lebanon and damage the new unity there, created after recent elections. "There is no doubt that [Netanyahu's remark] was meant to influence Lebanese politics ahead of the formation of the new government," Mousawi said. "But the Lebanese people will send out a message that they are stronger than these threats." Later on Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said the recent threats coming from Israel highlighted the need to "unite the ranks" in Lebanese politics. Suleiman said recent statements by Israeli officials revealed Jerusalem's schemes against Lebanon. He called on Lebanese parties to forge a broad unity government that would "express general accord regarding the threats coming from Israel." Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

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