TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — International sanctions are forcing Iran to cut back aid to its anti-Israel Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, but the Lebanese guerrilla group remains a potent force, a top Israeli military official said Monday.
He said Hezbollah has an arsenal far larger and more sophisticated than it possessed during a monthlong war in 2006, when it fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
The official said Israel remains worried that Syrian arsenals of chemical weapons might be raided by militants including Hezbollah, which is also backed by the Syrian regime. At present the government in Syria, which borders both Israel and Lebanon, appears to be maintaining control over its chemical weapons arsenals, he added.
“There are no signs now” that chemical weapons are being moved out of secure government warehouses, he said. But he said Israel fears “that could change overnight” because of the chaos of Syria’s civil war.
The official, a senior officer in the northern command, spoke with foreign reporters on condition of anonymity under military rules.
There was no immediate reaction from Hezbollah, which does not usually comment on military or security matters.
Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Muslim group committed to Israel’s destruction, has long served as an Iranian proxy along Israel’s northern border. It fired 4,000 rockets and missiles into Israel during the 2006 war, while Israeli military strikes caused heavy damage and killed more than 1,100 Lebanese. The war ended in a stalemate.
In the intervening years, Israel has accused Hezbollah and its Iranian patron of targeting Israelis abroad, including a July bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and earlier bombing attempts on Israelis in India, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kenya. Hezbollah has accused Israel of killing a top operative in Syria in a 2008 car bomb. Neither side has acknowledged culpability in the killings.
Iran is a central factor in arming and training Hezbollah inside Lebanon and in camps in Iran, but the flow of aid has diminished compared to four or five years back, the military official said.
“Sanctions have hurt the amount of aid Hezbollah receives from Iran,” he said, without providing evidence to back up his claims. He said aid remains a “significant amount,” estimating it at hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Western sanctions, aimed at forcing Iran to curtail its nuclear development program, have hit Iran’s economy hard and cut off access to most international financial networks. The West suspects Iran might be aiming to build nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful, intended mainly to produce energy. Israel considers Iran to be its most dangerous enemy, in part because of its nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, a Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southern border.
Other Israeli officials have estimated Hezbollah possesses more than 40,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel. In addition to its military clout — which surpasses that of Lebanon’s official army — Hezbollah has developed into a key political force in Lebanon, holding the balance of power in the country’s Cabinet.
The official said should Israel find itself warring with Hezbollah again — for instance, if it were to carry out a mega-attack on Israelis abroad — then Israel would significantly scale back its use of cluster bombs. Its use of the weapons in 2006 drew heavy international criticism.
Cluster bombs open in flight and scatter dozens of bomblets over wide areas. The United Nations and human rights groups have said Israel dropped about 4 million cluster bomblets during the 2006 war. Up to 1 million failed to explode and now endanger civilians, according to U.N. demining experts.
“No doubt the use of cluster bombs would be much diminished,” he said. “Because Hezbollah is in every Shiite village, because it is so entrenched in the population and underneath buildings, it’s not enough to send a bomb from the air there, be it from a gun or a plane.”
Soldiers have to be sent in “at a relatively early stage,” and improved intelligence has allowed Israel to identify many targets, he said.
More Related Stories
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodia Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11