Israel on edge: Hezbollah's missile threat

JERUSALEM — Hezbollah’s stockpile of weapons includes missiles that can strike at the entire area of Israel, the country’s Intelligence Minister revealed Monday.

In a briefing to foreign journalists, Dan Meridor said the Lebanese Shiite militia, which fought a rocket war with Israel in 2006, has 42,000 rockets and missiles “aimed at Israel.” He added that “some of them cover the north of the country, which includes 1 million Israelis. Some of them cover all of Israel.”

It’s the first time a senior Israeli official has admitted the extent of Hezbollah’s capacity to strike against the Jewish state.

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Meridor, who also has responsibility within the Israeli government for nuclear affairs, said that Hezbollah’s missile capability was doubly disturbing given the group is sponsored by Iran and the possibility that Tehran may succeed in beating international attempts to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons in the coming years. 

“If Iran wins that fight,” Meridor said, “I don’t want to think of the arrogance of Hamas and Hezbollah when they talk about us.”

The residents of Israel’s north were forced into their shelters during the war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, because Hezbollah rolled out rockets of a much greater range than it had previously used, striking at Haifa and other Israeli population centers. The result was 43 Israeli dead, though Israeli attacks on Lebanon killed 1,191.

In the Gaza war of January last year, Hamas hit Israeli towns including Ashkelon and Ashdod with its own rockets. Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s now Israel’s Prime Minister, warned that by the next time Israel tried to impose its will on the Gaza Strip, Hamas would have introduced rockets that could hit Tel Aviv.

The Hamas and Hezbollah missiles originate in North Korea, according to Israeli and Palestinian security officials. They’re sent to Gaza and Lebanon via Tehran and, then, Damascus.

Last month Meridor visited Japan to discuss strategies for confronting North Korea’s role in fueling the conflict at the other end of Asia. He said there was a willingness among Japanese officials to help, but he didn’t offer details of any concrete steps that resulted from his trip.

“The number of rockets and missiles deployed against us is unprecedented in its intensity,” he said. “They have created a new security concern for Israel.”

Another Israeli minister, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, said at a conference on air power Monday that Israel has the capability to strike at Iran, should it decide that Tehran’s plans for nuclear weapons won’t be stopped by international sanctions or other means.

Israel attacked an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981 and made another attack on a nascent Syrian weapons plant in 2007. But many analysts have said Iran is too distant a target and its nuclear plants too well-protected for a similar attack to succeed.

Ya’alon, who is the former head of Israel’s army, suggested that a direct strike against the actual nuclear facilities might not be the approach Israel would take. He talked of attacks to “decapitate or blind” an enemy, by taking out the leadership or the country’s warning systems.

Intelligence Minister Meridor said that Iranian nuclear capability would be a disaster for international nuclear non-proliferation.

“Egypt and other countries in the Gulf will go nuclear” to defend against a potential Iranian attack, he said. “It’s a different world altogether. It’s not good for America, not good for the world order, and not good for us.”

This story was updated to adhere to GlobalPost style on the spelling of Hezbollah.