Hizbullah: IDF preparing for new war

Vilna'i: Army drill meant to help us apply lessons of last war, not related to border friction.

hizbullah demo 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
hizbullah demo 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Israel's new military exercises are intended to prepare for a new war on Lebanon, the deputy leader of Hizbullah said Sunday. Sheik Naim Kassem also warned that Hizbullah is fully ready to defend Lebanon if Israel attacks again. Kassem's remarks came as Israel began a five-day home front security drill Sunday, simulating responses to war and other emergency situations, including a large-scale terror attack or natural catastrophe. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said the drill was meant to help Israel apply lessons from its inconclusive 2006 war against Hizbullah guerrillas, during which the group fired hundreds of conventional rockets into Israel. However, he and other Israeli officials denied the exercise was related to current friction along Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon. "These drills are part of preparations for war because Israel is always in a warlike situation," Kassem told a rally south of Beirut. "These maneuvers are part of preparations for something in the future - probably it could be far off - but it is a preparation for war." Kassem said the Israeli drills were also intended "to raise the collapsing morale of the people inside Israel following the defeat in the 2006 war." Israel attacked Hizbullah that summer after the group killed three Israeli soldiers and seized two others in a cross-border raid. But Israel has acknowledged it failed to achieve two of its declared objectives: Freeing the two captured soldiers and destroying Hizbullah's military structure. After the war, a 13,500-strong UN force, along with 15,000 Lebanese troops, was deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border to monitor a UN cease-fire. Kassem said Hizbullah was ready to defend Lebanon if it was attacked again by Israel. Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, whose Western-backed government is locked in fierce power struggle with the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hizbullah, told reporters Sunday that he opposes the Israeli exercise. Saniora said he had instructed the Lebanese army and the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon to be vigilant "so that Israel will not use (the drills) as a pretext to violate our airspace or launch an attack on Lebanon." He spoke in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In a speech last month, Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah threatened to retaliate with an "open war" against Israel for the assassination of one of his top commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed Feb. 12 in a car bomb in Syria. Hizbullah and Iran, its main backer, blamed Mughniyeh's assassination on Israel, which denied any role. Israel declared a heightened security alert after Mughniyeh's death, fearing Hizbullah retaliation.