katyusha rocket
katyusha rocketIsrael News Photo:(file)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization now has 42,000 rockets that can reach as far south as Ashkelon and the Negev cities of Be’er Sheva and Dimona.

Speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Barak said that Hizbullah is "three times stronger than it was before the Second Lebanon War," which took place in the summer of 2006.  "Does someone really suggest that we should capture Lebanon again?!" he asked later in the Knesset.

However, at the Committee session, Barak said that Lebanon, where Hizbullah has ensconced itself, had now become a legitimate Israeli target.  The “integration of Hizbullah with the country of Lebanon exposes Lebanon and its infrastructures to a deeper Israeli hit in the event of a future conflict,” Barak said.

Shteinitz Blames Olmert, Livni

MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni over the weekend for their role in enabling Hizbullah to get stronger.  “Their decisions and failures led to an increase in Hizbullah strength and an increase in the threat of rockets and terrorism against Israel,” Shteinitz said.

Only Ten a Month

Defense Minister Barak also spoke in a special Knesset session today, where he tried to rebuff criticism regarding his lack of offensive action against ongoing rocket activity from Gaza.  He noted that the incidents of rocket fire had dropped from 500 a month nearly a year ago, to about 10 a month now.  “I don’t regret a single day or month of quiet,” said Barak, despite claims that the period of calm was used by Hamas to build up its military capabilities against Israel.

“I was a warrior and an officer,” the former Chief of Staff and Prime Minister said, “and I don’t need anyone to teach me the laws of war and peace and of responsibility.  To all those who want war, I say that the war won’t run away and we are not afraid of it - but neither do we run towards it with our eyes closed.”  

Saar: 'It's Not Your Past, It's Your Present'

In response, Likud MK Gideon Saar said, “We respect your military past, but it’s your present that we’re crying about.”  The calm in the Negev “exists only in your position papers,” Saar said, “but not on the ground.”

Regarding Syria, Barak tried a double-pronged approach: “Syria is aiding Hizbullah and is intimately close with Hizbullah.  But… Israel has an interest in removing Syria from the circle of conflict.  Our contacts with Syria are a positive development that must be done responsibly, seriously, and precisely.”

The Defense Minister said that Iran “continues to toy with the world and is working with zest to advance its military nuclear program.  We are not ruling out any options, and we would advise others the same.”