'Hizbullah is rearming at a dizzying pace'

Gov't sources say 2,500 Hizbullah fighters in s. Lebanon, group has trebled pre-war missile arsenal.

Hizbullah  gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hizbullah gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
There are some 2,500 non-uniformed Hizbullah fighters in southern Lebanon, and the organization has trebled its pre-war missile arsenal, government sources said Wednesday following a security cabinet meeting on Hizbullah's current strength and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. According to the sources, Hizbullah today has some 40,000 short and medium-range missiles inside Lebanon, and UN Security Council Resolution 1701 - the resolution that put an end to the Second Lebanon War and provided an expanded mandate for UNIFIL - has been completely ineffective in stopping arms from pouring in to Hizbullah from Syria. The vast majority of the missiles are north of the Litani river, but can still "blanket" the northern part of Israel, the sources said. The security cabinet meeting came as the government is apparently trying to place the implementation of 1701 back on the international agenda. The ministers heard three hours of briefings from Military Intelligence, Mossad and General Security Services representatives, before the meeting was cut short to enable the ministers to attend debates in the Knesset. The security cabinet discussion, which had been planned for a number of weeks, is scheduled to continue in the coming weeks. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni raised the failure to implement 1701 on Tuesday with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country currently commands the UNIFIL forces. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also joined the fray, and called French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner Tuesday night to discuss the issue. He said he plans to bring the matter up with other European foreign ministers before the upcoming Mediterranean Union meeting in Paris on Sunday, which Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as the new Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, are scheduled to attend. Barak, according to a statement put out by his office, told Kouchner that "Israel will not be able to accept the ongoing and growing undercutting of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which is not being implemented, and the continued smuggling of all types of weapons into Lebanon, upsetting the delicate balance along Israel's northern border." Barak told Kouchner that Israel expected him to act to halt the transfer of arms from Syria to Hizbullah, adding that the UNIFIL force operating in Lebanon must increase its efforts against Hizbullah's growing armament and fortification. Israeli diplomatic sources, however, said they doubted French President Nicolas Sarkozy would place much pressure on Assad over this matter at their scheduled meeting in Paris on Saturday, because Europe is presently "hugging Assad, not scolding him." The sources denied, however, that the Israeli government's sudden public surge of attention on 1701 had to do with Saturday's second anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, and an interest in showing activity on the issue amid what is expected to be a wave of media reports over the weekend looking at the situation in Lebanon two years after the war. "There is a serious objective problem," one official said. "The problem is real." Meanwhile, CIA Director Michael Hayden said in an interview with Bloomberg that Hizbullah may not be willing to attack American interests and provoke a global fight in retaliation for a US or Israeli strike aimed at disabling Iranian nuclear facilities. If Iran were attacked and pressured Hizbullah to retaliate, the group may be especially reluctant to disrupt international oil supplies for fear of triggering a backlash, Hayden said. A strike at oil would be "the terrorists' equivalent of the nuclear weapon" and also would impact many other nations besides the US, said Hayden, 63, a retired Air Force General. Hayden said Hizbullah would need to weigh whether any action it took against the US would involve it in a war. "Is it in Hizbullah's interest to become involved in a global war against the United States of America? That's a question to be answered." However, Hayden said, Hizbullah may be less reluctant to strike at Israeli targets. The costs of an attack on US interests, he said, "are different than Hizbullah operating against Israel." Bloomberg contributed to this report.