New chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said on Wednesday that the IDF may have to stop Hizbullah from rearming. Speaking to reporters while observing a military exercise on the Golan Heights, Ashkenazi also said the army had delivered a tough blow to Hizbullah during last summer's 34-day war. "Hizbullah is looking to make up for the capabilities it lost during the war; however, a tour of the northern border proves they are far from" reaching that goal, he said.
IDF: Arms smuggled to Hizbullah on a weekly basis
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a press conference in Jerusalem that Hizbullah is much weaker now than they were before the summer's war in Lebanon.
Ashkenazi said, however, that Hizbullah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, were working steadily to rearm.
"I think we all understand that... he [Nasrallah] is not able to do the things that he could do before," Ashkenazi said. "We see here and there smuggling and other things to bring in weapons.
We are following this and we apparently have to deal with this."
On Wednesday, Lebanese anti-aircraft guns fired at IAF jets over southern Lebanon, a Lebanese military spokesman said.
The IDF, which declined to comment on the operations of the air force, has defended flights like this one as necessary to check that Hizbullah is not rearming in violation of the cease-fire.
The Lebanese shells did not hit any planes. It was the first time the Lebanese military has fired at Israeli aircraft since the war.
According to the Lebanese spokesman, the low-flying planes "violated Lebanese sovereignty, posing a challenge to UN Resolution 1701" - the Security Council resolution that ended the war between Israel and Hizbullah in August.
Officers in the Northern Command told Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Tuesday that weapons were reaching Hizbullah from Syria "on a weekly basis," usually at night, evading UNIFIL peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon.
IAF warplanes have flown reconnaissance missions over Lebanon for years, despite protests from the Beirut government.
On February 7, Lebanese troops fired at an IDF bulldozer after it crossed the border fence but remained south of the Lebanese border. The IDF fired back.
Olmert's comments at the press conference contradicted an assessment that Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, the head of Military Intelligence's Research Division, gave the Knesset on Monday, saying that Hizbullah had "returned to its pre-war capabilities and even become stronger."
While it was true that Hizbullah was trying to smuggle arms into Lebanon to rearm itself, Olmert said, it was also true that there were now some 25,000 Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers in southern Lebanon "making the life of Hizbullah almost intolerable in that part of the country."
He said that since August 14, the day the war in Lebanon ended, not one Hizbullah member with a uniform and gun had appeared publicly in southern Lebanon. "When they try to surface now, they are disarmed and arrested by the international force," he said.
Olmert said the fact that there were no longer any Hizbullah bunkers along the border, that Hizbullah did not have the freedom of movement it had before the war, and that there was an international force in place, "has dramatically changed the basic situation in the south of Lebanon and has definitely reduced Hizbullah's options."
Olmert said he didn't believe Hizbullah had "an appetite to fight with Israel again" but admitted there was still "a lot to do to entirely remove the Hizbullah threat."
Regarding negotiations with Syria, Olmert reiterated that this would not happen as long as Damascus continued to support terrorism throughout the region.
"We are interested in peace, not in the peace industry," Olmert said. "We are interested in peace, not in the process of peace. We are interested in peace with Syria, not in helping Syria pretend it is now a peace-loving country and that therefore it has to be relieved of all efforts by the international community to establish an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon [Rafik Hariri], and of the Syrian involvement with Hizbullah violence in Lebanon."
Olmert said that if the Syrians were genuinely interested in peace, they should not "at the same time be actively involved in making the opposite against the State of Israel."
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