(photo credit: Channel 2)
Following Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled's weekend assertion that another war with Hizbullah is inevitable, OC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot played down reports of tensions in the North, calling them a "virtual reality" that have no basis.
In a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Eizenkot said Hizbullah was dealt a "real below" during the Second Lebanon War and that the guerrilla group's head, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, would be more than happy to return to the days which preceded the conflict of the summer of 2006.
He stressed that Hizbullah had not managed to perpetrate a terror attack since the war, although the organization was gaining strength and that Israel was well prepared for any eventuality.
Eizenkot noted that the UNIFIL force had grown three-fold since the war. He said the force was determined to carry out the mandate it was entrusted with, even though the UNIFIL troops could not operate inside the southern Lebanon villages Hizbullah was based in.
The OC Northern Command said Israel was not looking for a war in Lebanon, but that it was rather in pursuit of peace.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, meanwhile, told Israel Radio that "while the threats around us are great," Israel had long ago made a strategic decision that it would deal with the dangers in "peaceful ways."
Nevertheless, he emphasized that Israel's deterrence was a central component and that the IDF was ready for any "crisis" that could arise.
He pointed out that Hizbullah had succeeded in rearming via the Lebanese border in spite of UN Resolution 1701.
The deputy defense minister said while Israel's "eyes are open," it was trying to do all it could so as not to get into an armed conflict.
Earlier Sunday, outgoing UNIFIL Commander General Claudio Graziano denied that arms had been smuggled to Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.
Speaking to Army Radio, Graziano instead criticized Israel for violating UN Resolution 1701, citing IAF forays into Lebanese airspace.
The resolution ended the Second Lebanon War and instituted a UN presence in southern Lebanon to ensure the prevention of renewed conflict between Israel and Hizbullah.
"There are Israeli violations of 1701, and this undermines the credibility of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. Even if Israel says that the flights are a vital step meant to prevent smuggling and provide intelligence, they are a violation of state sovereignty, and furthermore, humiliation," Graziano told the radio station.
In Israel, there are assertions that Hizbullah is getting stronger and continuing to smuggle weapons from Syria and Iran. Proof of this, sources in Jerusalem are reported to have said, include the explosion six months ago of a weapons cache only ten kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese border in the town of Hirbat Salim, weapons said to have originated in Syria.
During the Army Radio interview, Graziano took issue with the Israeli assessment, asserting that weapons had not been smuggled into southern Lebanon. Graziano did not similarly criticize Hizbullah and he stressed that in recent years there have been no incidents of violence between UNIFIL forces and Hizbullah.
In response, Peled, the former OC Northern Command, told the station, "It's unclear to me why the Italian general is referring to seeming Israeli violations."
"It has become habit for international organizations to say that all bad things occurring here are because of us," he added. "There is a UN decision, and part of that decision addresses weapons smuggling, or its prevention. There is a very strange balance here."