- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ever since the the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire ending last summer’s war in Lebanon, the terrorist group, which receives close to $200 million a year in subsidies from Iran, has been rebuilding the military arsenal destroyed by the Israeli army. While attention has been focused on Hezbollah’s ongoing efforts to topple the Lebanese government headed by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, a Sunni Muslim, Hezbollah appears to be laying the groundwork for a new war against Israel by smuggling Iranian-made weapons from Syria and daring the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to do anything about it. In the fall, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, warned that any effort to disarm Hezbollah would turn Lebanon into another Iraq or Afghanistan and declared that the United States would be driven out of the Middle East as it was in Vietnam.

“Your clear mission,” Sheikh Nasrallah said to the UNIFIL in a September speech, “is not to spy on Hezbollah or disarm the resistance.” UNIFIL, he made clear, needed to know its place — or else. To avoid being dragged into a “collision” with Hezbollah, the sheikh also said that UNIFIL should avoid looking at Hezbollah’s weapons. “They should not interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs or be involved in such things,” he said. More recently, journalist Olivier Guitta reported that Hezbollah supporters in several towns in Southern Lebanon staged unprovoked attacks on UNIFIL soldiers, including an ugly incident in which a French medical unit that had come to treat indigent Lebanese was chased out of town.

The sheikh has become increasingly brazen in declaring that he has no intention of being bound by the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the measure that instituted the cease-fire with Israel. In a Feb. 16 speech in South Beirut, he openly declared what Israeli, American and Lebanese officials have been saying for months: that Hezbollah has been quietly rearming and smuggling arms into Southern Lebanon, and is trying to bring them to the border with Israel: “The resistance [Hezbollah] notes that it is transporting arms to the front.” He denounced the Lebanese army for last month’s interception of a truck that Hezbollah was using to smuggle explosives, Katyusha rockets and other weaponry: “We are transporting the arms in secret because that is our right,” he declared. “We are transporting the arms secretly and in straw trucks so as not to embarrass you [the Lebanese government.]”

Also, in the Feb. 26 Times of London, veteran Lebanon-based journalist Nicholas Blanford reported that Hezbollah is also building a new system of fortifications and expanding old military positions north of the Litani River, just outside the area manned by UNIFIL. A Shi’ite businessman with links to Hezbollah has been buying large quantities of land from local Druze and Christians — land that many Lebanese believe is about to become a Hezbollah military zone.

A growing number of signs suggest that Hezbollah has decided to escalate the situation with Israel — and with its fellow Lebanese.

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