Hizbullah: No war with Israel soon

Suleiman to press US on

Hizbullah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassim does not expect a war between Israel and his guerrilla organization in the near future, according to a Sunday report in the Kuwaiti paper Al-Rai. Kassim stressed, however, that Hizbullah would be ready for war even if it was to break out tomorrow. Internal politics in Israel, the state of Jerusalem-US relations, and Hizbullah's strength were the main factors preventing another round of fighting, he was quoted as saying. On Saturday, meanwhile, defense officials expressed concern over reports that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman plans to urge US officials to expedite the delivery of weapons for the nation's army during a trip to Washington this week. The appeal from Suleiman, who arrived in Washington on Saturday, is at the heart of much of the country's political turmoil. Lebanon's government is a shaky coalition of Western-backed factions and Syrian-supported groups led by Hizbullah. The United States has long provided military assistance to Lebanon - including $410 million to the military and the police. But America has not handed over any sophisticated arms for fear they could end up in the hands of Hizbullah. According to the US Embassy in Beirut, the military assistance over the past years includes aircraft, tanks, artillery, small boats, infantry weapons, ammunition, Humvees and cargo trucks. It added that the US will provide the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with 12 Raven unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft in the coming months. Israeli officials expressed concern with the growing alliance between the Lebanese government and Hizbullah. The Lebanese parliament recently approved a national unity government that will allow Hizbullah to keep its weapons despite strong criticism from pro-Western lawmakers. Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that Hizbullah was becoming the "real Lebanese army" and was today the dominant force in Lebanon. Practically, the issue at hand for Israel is whether it will make a distinction during a future war between Hizbullah and LAF targets like it did during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Due to the growing alliance between the two as well as the government's support of Hizbullah, it is unlikely, officials said, that Israel would make the distinction in the future. "Hizbullah and the LAF are turning into one and the same," one high-ranking defense official said recently. "Practically, this means more targets in a future conflict." Hisham Jaber, who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Public Relations in Beirut, said Suleiman's appeal is part of his work to develop a national defense strategy that would eventually integrate Hizbullah's weapons into the army. "You cannot speak about a defense strategy and disarming the resistance without the presence of a strong army," Jaber told The Associated Press. The White House said earlier this month that Obama and Suleiman would discuss a broad range of issues, including achieving peace in the region. AP contributed to this report