JERUSALEM (Aug. 18)
An Israel Defense Force general said this week there is no certainty that Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon have obtained long-range rockets capable of striking deeper into northern Israel than ever before.
At the same time, Maj. Gen. Shmuel Arad added his voice to the recent escalation of warnings by Israeli officials, saying Israel would launch a strong retaliation if Hezbollah renewed its rocket attacks on northern Israel.
Arad met Sunday with leaders of northern Israeli communities and cautioned them that there is “no certainty” to recent reports that Hezbollah had acquired Katyusha rockets capable of targeting the Israeli cities of Acre and Carmiel.
“In the future, if there is intelligence or other confirmation that they have” long-range rockets, he said, the Israeli army would use its “deterrent and retaliatory capabilities” against Hezbollah in the event of an attack from southern Lebanon.
Last week, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Hezbollah may have obtained longer-range Katyushas.
The chief of staff said the reports had not yet been confirmed, but added that the militant group had dispersed its supply of Katyushas throughout southern Lebanon and would be able to quickly organize an attack against northern Israel.
A day after Shahak discussed the reports, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai issued a warning against attacks on civilians in northern Israel or on armed forces serving in southern Lebanon.
“We will hold Lebanon and anyone on its territory responsible if civilians or soldiers are hurt,” he said during a tour of the security zone. “We have the necessary means.”
The reports prompted a meeting last week of local leaders in the north to discuss possible security measures for their communities, including the condition of bomb shelters.
In April, Israel launched a 16-day artillery and air blitz against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in a move aimed at stopping Katyusha rocket attacks against northern Israeli communities.
The cross-border fighting ended April 27 with a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that barred either side from firing on or from civilian areas.