Northern Israel and neighbors
Northern Israel and neighbors

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, observing an intensive IDF armored corps training exercise in the Golan Heights, told reporters, "We see that Hizbullah has been receiving many rockets, including anti-aircraft rockets, and UN Resolution 1701 [the ceasefire that ended the Second Lebanon War] is not being implemented."

Barak, together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Ground Forces Commander Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi and other senior officers, paid a pre-dawn visit to the Golan site where the junior officers' live-fire exercise is taking place.

"The very fact that we are training with live fire, and with every soldier fully-equipped, and in an officers' training course," Barak said, "is part of a vital process, led by the Chief of Staff this past year and a half, that will bring about a change from the very foundations in our readiness and ability to carry out these operations during actual wartime, if and when this is forced upon us."

Army Returning to Itself

"The army is thus returning to itself," Barak said, back-handedly acknowledging that the army was not in top form during the recent war, "returning to its right values, to the right training, and it is our obligation as a government to make sure that the necessary means are available to carry out these exercises intensively and correctly."

Barak said the Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon have been arming themselves very heavily: "They have been receiving modern weapons, including anti-aircraft rockets, and the ceasefire is not being implemented.  What are we supposed to do? It's no coincidence that we are training here in the Golan Heights [not far from Lebanon], so intensively and on such a large scale."

Hizbullah Receives Anti-Aircraft Missiles

Barak also referred to the "possibility" that Syria is transferring advanced weapons systems to Hizbullah - a scenario that has been reported as fact by the Sunday Times.  The London  paper reported over the weekend, based on "Middle East sources," that top Syrian official Muhammed Suleiman supplied advanced Russian-made SA-8 anti-aircraft missiles to Hizbullah.  Suleiman, a top aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad, was killed in mysterious circumstances two weeks ago. 

The Times also reported that if the rockets are activated, they can present a threat to the Israel Air Force's control of the region.

"In terms of preparations," Barak said, "we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Regarding the rest, I prefer not to talk about it, but rather - if and when the need arises - simply to do it."

Negev Comes into Range

Last week, Barak said that Hizbullah currently has no fewer than 40,000 rockets that cover not only the northern third of the country, "but also - with the help of heavier warheads - some that can reach Be'er Sheva, Dimona, and the Negev, thus that from this standpoint, the entire country is in their range."

Regarding the budget cuts in the Defense Ministry, Barak said, "Our country is one in which our security is comprised not only of tanks and planes, but also of the pursuit of excellence, dealing with [soldiers as individuals], education, welfare, and the like.  Life and security come before quality of life, and in a country like ours, we do not have the luxury of cutting our defense budget."