Israel Dismisses Hezbollah Claim It Can Reach Targets in Every Part of Country

Top defense official to Haaretz: Hezbollah has restored its pre-war capabilities, report of Iran-Syria arms deal untrue.

A senior Israeli defense official on Monday dismissed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's claims that his organization is capable of striking all parts of Israel, saying the militant group does not have missiles that can reach the Gush Dan region north of Tel Aviv.

In an interview with the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera satellite television, which was broadcast Monday, Nasrallah said: "In July and August 2006, there wasn't a place in occupied Palestine that the rockets of the resistance could not reach, be it Tel Aviv or other cities."

"We could absolutely do that now," he added. "We can reach any target and any point in occupied Palestine."

The Israeli official told Haaretz that Hezbollah has completely restored its military capabilities, which are now greater than they were prior to the Second Lebanon War. This is especially true for its long-range missiles, which can reach a range of more than 70 km and can strike the center of the country north of the Gush Dan region.

The official added that Nasrallah's latest visit to Damascus last week was not his first visit to Syria since last summer's war, and that he has visited Damascus in order to meet with Iranian officials in the past, although it was not reported in the press. While in Damascus, Nasrallah met with visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He further maintained that official Syrian representatives are continuously taking part in the Iranian weapons transfers to Hezbollah. "These are not smuggled, but are weapons that are transferred freely as part of an entire industry," said the official.

The official emphasized that Hezbollah's activities are more focused in populated areas than they were prior to the war, when the group operated freely in what Israel termed the "nature reserves." The "nature reserves" are now under constant surveillance by the United Nations peace keeping troops in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

He said Hezbollah is transferring weapons to southern Lebanon within the framework of "unwritten agreements" with the Lebanese army, and "behind UNIFIL's back."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Hezbollah's rearmament is a direct and grave violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended last year's war.

"The international community must hold accountable those governments, namely Syria and Iran, who by supplying weapons to Hezbollah are deliberately trying to undermine the United Nations, the Lebanese government and peace and stability in the region," he said.

Nasrallah denies Hezbollah confirmed abducted soldiers are aliveIn the televised interview, Nasrallah also denied that his organization had confirmed that abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were alive to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on July 15 that he "understood" the soldiers were alive after discussing the issue with Hezbollah envoys during talks with Lebanese political leaders in the French capital.

"This is not true," said Nasrallah. "The minister [Kouchner] is clever ... he said 'I understood'. The brothers [envoys] do not answer this type of questions."

The Hezbollah leader said he is the only one authorized to hand over information regarding the abducted soldiers' fate, adding that the militant group would not do so outside the framework of negotiations. "Any piece of information, word or indication can yield an important result on a humanitarian level [such as the release] of a detainee... why should we give it for free?" he said.

Nasrallah added that Syria threatened to intervene in the Second Lebanon War, warning it would send troops "even into Lebanese territory to tackle Israeli forces."

"Syria informed the enemy's government through mediators that should any ground troops advance into Arqoub ... Syria would not stand to watch and would engage," Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah did not elaborate on the source of the information. But he said Damascus did not discuss any such plans with his group during the war and Israel appeared to have heeded the warning.

"The Israelis took this message seriously ... No ground advance took place in that [area] and not a single Israeli soldier advanced there," Nasrallah said.

He added that Hezbollah did not ask Syria or any other country to enter the war on its side: "This was not an intention or a wish on our part and we did not see any interest in that."

Israel dismisses reports of Iran-Syria arms dealThe senior defense official also said that a report of a $1 billion arms deal between Syria and Iran is false, saying that Russia - not Iran - is Syria's main weapons supplier.

"[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's visit [to Syria] was simply designed to maintain the axis between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah," said the official.

The official maintained that Syria is seen by both Iran and Hezbollah as the "weakest link" in their ties, which may break away from them should that be in its interest. However, the official emphasized that "at any given time" there are Iranian and Hezbollah representatives in Syria to coordinate their actions.

On Saturday, the London-based Arabic language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Damascus and Tehran had signed a strategic cooperation agreement during Ahmadinejad's visit to Syria late last week. The report describes the cooperation between the countries as including military, economic, scientific and technical aspects.