Netanyahu: Israel has no plans to attack Lebanon

Haaretz (Link) - Barak Ravid (January 23, 2010)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday that Israel has no intention of carrying out an offensive against Lebanon, speaking hours after a minister in his cabinet said that a military conflict between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah was �inevitable.�

�The State of Israel is not looking for any kind of confrontation with Lebanon,� Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office, adding, �Israel seeks peace with all of its neighbors.�

Minister without portfolio Yossi Peled said earlier Saturday that �we can�t sleep easy� in regard to Israel�s shared border with Lebanon. He emphasized that �we�re in for another round in the north, but I don�t know when,� with the first round being the 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

�Israel�s main goal is to ensure the posterity of the Jewish state,� Peled said.

Speaking at a cultural function in the southern city of Be�er Sheva, the Likud minister said that �If a conflict does erupt in the North we will hold both Lebanon and Syria responsible.�

�The world had failed in its dealing with Hezbollah, allowing the organization to accumulate more weapons that he had in his possession in 2006,� Peled said, referring to the Second Lebanon War, adding that while he agreed the war had been a military failure for Israel it �could not be pinned on any one man.�

�Lebanon is the only country in the world which has a military organization, Hezbollah, that operates independently of the government and is supported by two foreign countries, while being part of the cabinet,� the Likud minister added, referring to the Lebanese militia�s backing from Iran and Syria.

The United Nations envoy to Lebanon, Michael Williams, was set to visit Israel on Sunday, and meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and senior Israeli intelligence and military officials. The meetings were to center around discussions between Israel and the UN on Israel�s possible withdrawal from the divided town of Ghajar, situated on the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Ayalon was also expected to broach the subject of Israel�s concern over violations of UN resolution 1701, which effectively ended the Second Lebanon War, which forbids Hezbollah from arming itself in southern Lebanon. Israel is especially concerned over the smuggling of weapons from Syria into southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah criticizes French FM comments condemning the militant group

Hezbollah on Saturday criticized French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner over his recent comments condemning the group and linking it to Iran.

�Israel is our friend, and if there was a threat to Lebanon, it will only come from a military adventure carried out by Hezbollah in the best interest of Iran,� Kouchner reportedly told the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a visit to Paris on Friday.

�Kouchner�s statement carried clear echoes for the Israeli voice and a full denial for France�s history and its legacy in resisting aggression and occupation,� said a statement by Hezbollah.

�This stance is an attempt to acquit Israel and to cover up its relentless violations of Lebanese sovereignty, the thing which represents a shield for its occupation and an encouragement for it to pursue its aggressions,� Hezbollah said.

The statement refers to Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon.

The UN Security Council has listed 388 Israeli airspace violations on behalf of Israel against Lebanon, in its report last June.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Hezbollah to �avoid entering in conflict with us.�

Israel has said that it will hold the Lebanese government responsible for any violations by Hezbollah of UN Security Council resolution 1701.

Barak reiterated that should Hezbollah carry out any attacks, Israel would retaliate against not just Hezbollah, but Lebanon and anyone else who helps Hezbollah.

Syria and Lebanon on high alert

Meanwhile, Syria and Hezbollah are on high alert in anticipation of an Israeli attack on Lebanon, the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat daily reported on Friday.

According to the report, Hezbollah has been monitoring with caution the reinforcement of IDF troops along the Lebanon border.

Hezbollah�s deputy secretary general, Naeem Kassem, said the group was preparing to retaliate although it had no proof of any such Israeli plans.

Late last year, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi warned Hezbollah guerrillas possess tens of thousands of rockets, some capable of reaching up to 300 kilometers within Israel.

These capabilities would put Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well cities much further south, into rocket range.

�There is a war in the Middle East between two camps, the extreme and the moderate, which is pushing Iran to take radical steps. Without Iran�s support to finance weapons and terror groups they would be lacking the means available to them today,� said Ashkenazi.