PM, Barak Lower the Temperature Amid War Fears on Northern Border

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak relayed calming messages to Syria and Lebanon at the start of yesterday's cabinet meeting, lowering the tone during the week-long home front exercise that began yesterday.

"We have no intention of starting a war in the north. On the contrary, we seek peace. But the State of Israel must be ready and we are ready," Barak said at the meeting.

"This is a routine exercise that was scheduled a long time ago, it is not the result of some unusual defense-related development," Netanyahu added. "Israel would like calm, stability and peace, but it is also no secret that we live in a region where there is a threat of missiles and rockets. We maintain deterrence and invest great resources to it from the state budget."

These words followed reports in Lebanon, particularly statements by Hezbollah officials, that the Shi'ite militia was on high alert due to a large-scale military exercise in Israel.

The deputy head of the organization, Nabil Qaouk, told Agence France-Presse on Friday that thousands of militiamen had been called up "and will be prepared in the event of a new attack on Lebanon .... The Israelis will not be able to find a single place in all of Palestine to hide." He was referring to the group's long-range missiles that are capable of striking deep into Israel.

GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot also commented on the tension in the north as a result of the exercise. "The Galilee has not known such a peaceful period, possibly since the establishment of the state, and we will continue working to keep it so," he said.

During a meeting with the Forum of the Front-Line Communities in the north, the major general added that "the biggest concern that was mentioned in the press stems from Hezbollah's modus operandi, which is a little reminiscent of the cold war in Europe. The nature of mutual deterrence creates a great deal of tension, and the question of when an incident will occur doesn't depend on a single factor, but a matrix of them, and not all depend on us."

IDF can handle it

Eizenkot added that "the question is only when will an incident that will feed another conflagration occur, and in my assessment, none of the sides have an interest currently to begin another confrontation. However, the IDF knows how to deal with the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, and at the same time with Gaza.

"The question is how we will be able to deal with this as a nation, a public and a home front that gives support [to the army]. We can deter states and organizations against taking action, but we can't deter states and organizations against getting stronger."

The heads of the local communities Eizenkot met with called on the Israel Defense Forces to issue a clear and calming message to the people, especially in view of the exercise.

They expressed concern about an escalation of the situation on the border with Lebanon and asked Eizenkot to keep them informed regularly so they can prepare accordingly.

"I hope that this summer will be hot only in terms of the weather and not regarding a war, which the media has been hinting about," said Shimon Suissa, head of the Hatzor Haglilit community. "I feel that there is a growing sense of unease in the public, and I think we need to issue a calming message."