- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TEL AVIV | Two years after fighting Hezbollah to a draw in southern Lebanon, Israelis are calling the U.N. Security Council cease-fire that ended the war a failure because it failed to prevent the Iranian backed militia from restocking its missile arsenal.

According to recent Israeli intelligence assessments, Hezbollah has tripled its pre-war rocket stockpile to about 40,000 missiles.

The estimate roughly matches a public statement by the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who said nearly a year ago that his forces had stockpiled 33,000 missiles that could strike anywhere in Israel. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the sheik claimed to have imported more than 10,000 rockets in one month alone.

U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 set up a team of peacekeepers that was to have shut down missile shipments over the Lebanon-Syria border.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told members of his Labor party that the resolution will probably never be effective.

“Hezbollah is continuing to ignore [the resolution], with the ongoing intimate assistance of the Syrians,” he said.

The assessment comes on the eve of a controversial prisoner swap with Hezbollah, in which Israel will free Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in return for what is expected to be the remains of two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction started the monthlong war in the summer of 2006.

In Israel, the war was a political victory for Hezbollah and a defeat for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets during the conflict, hitting the city of Haifa for the first time.

As recently as a year ago, Israelis were still undecided about the effectiveness of the multinational peacekeepers in Lebanon.

But now, Israeli security officials are warning that Hezbollah aspires to rebuild its bases in southern Lebanon despite the cease-fire agreement’s ban on Hezbollah military activity south of the Litani River.

In addition to demanding a cessation of hostilities, the U.N. resolution called for the disarming of Hezbollah and other militias and an international arms embargo against Lebanese guerrillas. It also called for the release of the two Israeli captives.

“The military has always been upset by 1701. They were never happy with it. They knew it was going to fail from the beginning,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. “Everybody knows it failed from the beginning.”

The latest Israeli assessments emerged from a recent roundtable of Israeli security chiefs and ministers in Mr. Olmert’s “security Cabinet.”

Mr. Steinberg said there’s a school of thought in the Israeli security establishment that believes there’s a window of opportunity to attack Lebanon over the next few years before Hezbollah fully recovers from the war.

Mr. Steinberg said that the war left Hezbollah’s military infrastructure, like bunkers, and its communications network in tatters.

The political science professor noted that Mr. Barak’s comments amount to a political barb directed at both Mr. Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who both hailed the Security Council resolution as a victory for Israel.

The prisoner swap, which is set for Wednesday, includes the release of Samir Quntar, a Lebanese national sentenced to life for killing a father and his daughter in a terrorist attack on the Israeli coastal city of Naharia some three decades ago. Mr. Quntar has denied the charges.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports

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