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Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Tuesday morning called for precautionary steps to be taken against a potential escalation of violence along the northern border. "Hizbullah has returned to its pre-war status, re-arming and returning to southern Lebanon," he said.
Ben-Eliezer advised Defense Minister Amir Peretz to listen to Intelligence assessments and not "turn a blind eye," Army Radio reported.
Ben-Eliezer commented in reaction to the assestement given to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday when contradictions between Peretz and a senior Military Intelligence officer over the military capabilities of Hizbullah left the Knesset confused.
Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence's Research Division, told the committee that Hizbullah had "returned to its pre-war capabilities and has even become stronger."
"Hizbullah is building up more firepower than it had before the war," Baidatz said. "Some of this ordnance has arrived, and some is still en route from Syria."
Baidatz was asked more than once by committee members if he meant that Hizbullah now had more firepower than before the war, and he responded in the affirmative until Peretz interrupted.
"Hizbullah has not increased its strength but merely its potential," said Peretz.
Baidatz then retracted his previous statement and told MKs that he agreed with Peretz.
Several of the opposition MKs said they were alarmed by the interaction between Baidatz and Peretz, calling it yet another indicator of Peretz's mismanagement of the defense establishment.
"I view this with severe gravity - first to know that Hizbullah is stronger than before the war, as Gen. Baidatz described, and also to know that the head of the IDF's Intelligence falls into line with comments made to him by the defense minister," said MK Limor Livnat (Likud). "We asked Baidatz a few times about Hizbullah, and he said yes, Hizbullah has become stronger. He described the situation in great detail, and it is not fitting that the defense minister should correct him."
MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) also said that if Hizbullah continued to get stronger, that proved that the war "was a failure."
Last week, Hizbullah head Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Hizbullah was continuing to smuggle weapons into Lebanon and would not disarm.
Meanwhile, Baidatz told committee members that Syria was preparing its military for a confrontation with Israel.
Amid rumors that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on the verge of firing Peretz, the defense minister told committee members that his relationship with Olmert was "reasonable."
Peretz said that in the past month he has been on the phone to Olmert 20 times a day. "I wish I saw my family this frequently," he said.
Last week, Olmert told committee members that he has a functioning work relationship with Peretz.
"The prime minister and the defense minister aren't required to have an intimate relationship," Olmert told the committee. "No Basic Law or religious commandment says that we must have an intimate relationship."
Following the meeting, the IDF issued the following statement: "The IDF, through intelligence means, is following the rearming efforts of Hizbullah. Hizbullah suffered damage to several of its operational systems during the recent war and is aspiring to recover. Several of its operational capabilities have been recuperated, while several of its other capabilities are currently at a lower level of strength than they were before hostilities broke out.
"There is a regular flow of various forms of weaponry from Syria and Iran to Hizbullah. This is a violation of UN Resolution 1701. This week, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah even stated that his organization was replenishing its weapons stocks and that these weapons are meant to confront Israel. Syria and Iran are also planning to supply Hizbullah with weaponry that it did not possess before the latest conflict with Israel.
"Apart from resupplying Hizbullah, Iran and Syria are helping the organization rehabilitate areas of southern Lebanon which were damaged during the war. Hizbullah is also focusing its efforts on trying to topple the government of Fuad Saniora.
Despite this, it is important to note that Hizbullah has not returned to its positions along the border, and that the Lebanese Armed Forces are currently patrolling areas along the Blue Line where Hizbullah used to have positions."