Hezbollah is ready for another war with Israel but it will not start one, the deputy leader of the Lebnon-based guerilla group said in an interview published Wednesday, a day after Israel told the European Union its intelligence showed Iran was rearming the group via Turkey.
In an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar daily, Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Kassem warned that Israel will pay a high price in any future war.
His comments followed last month's threat by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to retaliate with an open war against Israel for the assassination of one of his top commanders, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed on February 12 in a car bomb in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Hezbollah and Iran blamed the assassination on Israel, which denied any role.
"Hezbollah cannot confirm [that there will be war] because it does not want to initiate it," Al-Akhbar quoted Kassem as saying. "The Israelis know they have to pay a high price in any war," he added.
Kassem also told the paper Hezbollah is well-prepared to face an Israeli, American and international war, possibly in reference to the recent deployment of U.S. warships off Lebanon's Mediterranean coast; a move the U.S. has said was aimed at protecting its interests in the region.
MI: Iran is arming Hezbollah with missiles via Turkey
Iran is arming Hezbollah with missiles sent via Turkey, according to intelligence received in Israel. Turkish authorities are unaware of the arms shipments, which are in violation of Resolution 1701.
A senior Israeli government source said Tuesday that Brigadier General Yossi Beiditz, head of the IDF research department, last week told European Union ambassadors in a briefing that Iran continues to transfer arms and equipment to Hezbollah, in spite of Tehran's denials.
Some of the weapons include long-range missiles that are being transfered through flights using Turkey's airspace, as well as overland though Turkey, under the guise of civilian cargo. From Turkey, the missiles are transfered to Syria and then Lebanon. Turkey has not permitted the use of its territory for such transfers.
The same source said that according to Beiditz, some of the missiles Iran transfered to Hezbollah have a maximum range of 300 kilometers, "capable of reaching the Dimona area from Beirut." According to intelligence so far available to Israel, the maximum range of missiles in Hezbollah's arsenal had been 250 kilometers.
Beiditz said that the missiles currently in Hezbollah's possession are more accurate and capable of carrying larger warheads.
There was no comment from the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv concerning this information. However, a Turkish source noted that the embassy has not received any information or inquiries from official Israeli sources regarding the matter of weapons transfers to Hezbollah crossing through Turkish territory.
According to the source, Turkey has "adhered to all international decisions, with an emphasis on the arms embargo to Lebanon." He added, however, that Turkey and Israel share intelligence information on other levels, outside the embassy.
In June 2006 Hezbollah seized two Israel Defense Forces troops in a cross border raid, provoking Israel to attack Lebanon. More than 1,000 Lebanese and 159 Israelis were killed in the ensuing 34-day Second Lebanon War.
A 13,500-strong United Nations force and 15,000 Lebanese troops were deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border to monitor a UN cease-fire after the war, which Kassem said has not hindered Hezbollah's preparedness to fight Israel.
Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported to the Security Council Israeli evaluations that Hezbollah is rearming and has an arsenal including 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon.
While Ban's statement did not confirm Israel's claim, the UN chief reiterated his concern about Hezbollah's public statements and persistent reports pointing to breaches of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War and bans weapons transfers to the Shi'ite militia.
The report called on Syria and Iran to behave responsibly and in line with the embargo on exporting arms to Lebanon, an was also critical of Israel's intelligence-gathering overflights in Lebanon. Ban expressed concern at the anger that these flights spark.
"The repeated violations, on the part of Israel, undermine the credibility of UNIFIL and of the Lebanese army in the eyes of the local population and is preventing them from carrying out their role," the report states.
According to the Israeli government source, during his briefing to EU ambassadors, Beiditz said that the official position of Israel is that the intelligence-gathering flights are of particular importance, and he showed videos filmed by various aircraft documenting the smuggling of missiles from Syria into Lebanon.
"Without the overflights it will be difficult for Israel to pinpoint the launchers, the Hezbollah arms depots and the smuggling," the source said.
Ban also expressed concern over Nasrallah's threats of open war against Israel. In a statement released late Tuesday, Hezbollah criticized Ban's report, saying it lacked objectivity.
In May 2007, Turkey confiscated a load of weapons that included 300 rockets, transferred from Iran by train through Turkey. The cargo was registered as "cleaning materials."
During the Second Lebanon War, the Turkish media reported that Turkish authorities had forced two Iranian aircraft, on their way to Syria through Turkish airspace, to land because of suspicions that they were carrying unauthorized arms shipments. No weapons were found on board.