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Decade after Israeli pullout new war looms

Australia sends Israeli diplomat packing
Canberra, Australia (UPI) May 24, 2010 - Australia's foreign minister told Parliament that Israel has a week to send home a diplomat at its embassy after evidence that Israel forged Australian passports. In a strongly worded speech Steven Smith rebuked Israel for faking four Australian passports used in the assassination of senior Palestinian Hamas official Mahmud al-Mabhuh in a Dubai hotel room in January. Australian Federal Police along with the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and its externally oriented counterpart the Australian Secret Intelligence Service investigated the forgeries. Other faked passports used in the elaborately planned killing were from France, Germany, Ireland and Britain.

"The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a state intelligence service," Smith said. "Investigations and advice have left the government in no doubt Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports. "This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship." Smith said the passport holders were innocent victims. The decision to expel the unnamed Israeli diplomat was taken by the Australian government under "national security interests" and the person has a week to leave the country. Smith didn't name the Israeli official but The Australian newspaper claimed he was a Mossad agent. In March the U.K. government expelled the Mossad station chief in London following the fraudulent use of British passports after investigations by the Serious Organized Crime Agency.

US, Hariri discuss Mideast peace, Hezbollah arms, Iran
Washington (AFP) May 24, 2010 - Top US officials met Monday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss Arab-Israeli peace, Iran's nuclear plans, and Syria's alleged transfer of arms to Lebanon's Hezbollah, US officials said. Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, met for about an hour with Hariri who later arrived at the White House for talks with US President Barack Obama. "We discussed the key role of Lebanon in the long-term effort to build a lasting, comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Feltman said, reading a statement afterward. "Realizing this goal will help the region move forward and enjoy greater prosperity and stability. The importance of achieving this is clear to everyone," Feltman told reporters.

The United States has focused its regional diplomacy on reviving direct Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations while at the same time pressing for a resumption of Israel's negotiations with both Syria and Lebanon. Feltman alluded to concerns about the risk of a new war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah when he stressed the need to carry out resolutions relating to the border area. "We discussed the need for full implementation of all relevant Security Council Resolutions, including resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701, as well as the need for continued international support for UNIFIL," Feltman said. UNIFIL has some 13,000 troops from various countries stationed in southern Lebanon.

The force, which was set up in 1978 to monitor the border between Israel and southern Lebanon, was considerably beefed up in the wake of the devastating 2006 war between the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Israel. The senior US official said Feltman discussed with Hariri allegations that Syria was transferring missiles to Hezbollah in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. "You can take that as a yes," he said, when asked to confirm the arms shipment allegations were discussed.
by Staff Writers
Beirut, Lebanon (UPI) May 24, 2010
Ten years ago Monday, Israel's vaunted army withdrew from its "security zone" in south Lebanon in the face of remorseless Hezbollah attacks.

Today, the Levant -- and probably much of the Middle East -- teeters on the brink of another war between the Jewish state and a Hezbollah that has the trappings of a conventional army.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently noted that Hezbollah, armed by Iran and Syria, has "more missiles than most governments." Israeli military leaders estimate Hezbollah has some 45,000 missiles and rockets, including several hundred that can strike anywhere in Israel.

Hezbollah also has Iranian-built surveillance drones and, the Israelis say, surface-to-air missiles that could seriously challenge Israel's all-important air operations over Lebanon for the first time.

Hezbollah doesn't have tanks, heavy artillery or large-scale mechanized forces. But it has elaborate networks of bunkers, underground arms depots and missile launch sites and tunnels in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley in northeastern Lebanon, its heartland.

And, if Israeli intelligence assessments are to be believed, it has special units totaling up to 2,000 men, whose mission will be to infiltrate deep into Israel to cause mayhem behind the lines and trigger Palestinian uprisings.

Indeed, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has vowed that his fighters will take the war to Israel if hostilities break out again and will score a "historic and decisive victory."

That would be a strategic triumph compared to the tactical one achieved in the 34-day war of July-August 2006, when Hezbollah fought the Israelis to a standstill.

According to diplomatic sources, Israel's military establishment has been preparing for that eventuality, a feat that none of Israel's Arab foes has been able to achieve on anything but a pinprick scale over the last six decades.

In 2006, the Israel hinterland for the first time came under sustained bombardment. Hezbollah unleashed some 4,000 rockets into the north. That pales almost into insignificance compared to the destruction and death that Hezbollah could now inflict on Israel's cities and this clearly has the Israelis rattled.

Israel's pullout from South Lebanon, which Israel first invaded in 1978, and its equally unilateral 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, occupied in 1967, "have not resolved anything, but only ended up transforming the nature of the conflict," Jordanian commentator Rami Khouri noted in The Daily Star of Beirut.

"Neither long-term occupation nor unilateral withdrawal seems to have given Israel the sort of security, recognition and peace that it has sought from its northern and southern neighbors.

"Instead, Israeli policies seem mainly to have spurred a greater determination by various Arab and Islamist groups to resist it."

It was Israel's June 1982 invasion of Lebanon that brought Hezbollah into being among its long acquiescent Shiites and transformed them into a deadlier foe than the Palestinians had ever been.

Hezbollah's suicide bombings against the Israelis, and later U.S. and French "peacekeeping forces" in the 1980s, were impossible to counter and took asymmetric warfare to a new and terrifying level.

In 2006, Hezbollah not only survived Israel's military might, whose objective was nothing less than crushing it once and for all, it became even stronger.

The war "illustrated that Hezbollah had not merely perfected the art of guerrilla warfare but had surpassed it altogether with a new paradigm of warfare, which fuses 'non-traditional' methods with the 'usual mode of operations' conducted by conventional armies," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb of the American University of Beirut.

Saad-Ghorayeb, who writes extensively on Hezbollah, concluded that the movement "has set the strategic bar very high for itself for the next round of conflict."

Nasrallah's "decisive victory" implies nothing less than the defeat of Israel; a result, long unthinkable, that would have immense geostrategic implications for the region.

Hezbollah would be fighting as Iran's proxy and until Tehran amasses an arsenal of missiles capable of battering Israel -- which it does not yet seem to have -- it's likely to keep upgrading Hezbollah's capabilities.

If war does erupt, Hezbollah would likely be aided by Iran, Syria and Hamas, stretching Israel's military resources to the limit.

There are those in Israel who maintain that the 2000 withdrawal led to the current crisis by undercutting the military's deterrent power.

"We ran away, pure and simple," Col. Noam Ben-Tzvi, a brigade commander in the security zone up to the withdrawal, wrote in the liberal Haaretz.

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Hezbollah mobilises 'thousands of troops' for Israel drill
Beirut (AFP) May 21, 2010
Hezbollah mobilised thousands of militants in southern Lebanon on Friday in response to week-long Israeli defence exercises due to kick off on Sunday, an official from the Shiite militia group said. "The Hezbollah fighters have (been instructed) to be completely ready to confront Israeli manoeuvres on Sunday," Nabil Qaouk told AFP. "Thousands of our fighters will not go to the polls (for ... read more

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