29 June 2007

Hizbullah Preparing for Next War with Israel

Hizbullah is busy preparing for its next war with Israel keeping in mind that the Jewish state will not rest easy with the results of last summer's 34-day conflict, military analysts in Beirut believe.

Since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire came into force last August 14, the pro-Iran Shiite militia has been steadily gearing itself up for the next round with the same determination and secrecy that have made its reputation, the experts say."Immediately after last summer's war Hizbullah began re-fortifying its positions and working on new ones," said Judith Palmer Harik, author of the book "Hizbullah: The Changing Face of Terrorism." "They are rearming... In fact, there has been no interruption in their receiving of more arms," she told Agence France Presse.

The only Lebanese militia allowed by the government to have weapons, Hizbullah has moved most of its weapons out of the border area with Israel to conform with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the conflict.

A Western military observer in the Lebanese capital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hizbullah was now redeploying its arms farther north. "They left the (border) zone at once," he said. "Last summer, much to their surprise, they found themselves fighting well in front of their strongest lines because the Israeli army halted near the frontier. "Hizbullah has far stronger positions in the rear, north of the Litani river, that no one knows about and that they are fortifying all the time."

For 24 years Timur Goksel was the public face of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and the former UNIFIL spokesman says it is only a matter of time before war between Israel and Hizbullah breaks out again. "Israel can't live in the Middle East with the impression that they lost to Hizbullah, a militia," said Goksel, now lecturing at the American University of Beirut. "Since 1949 they lived on their reputation of the unbeatable Israeli soldier, the invincible Jewish army, the legend. And here comes the Hizbullah who says 'We beat you.' They have to set that correct. They have no other option -- they have to restore their credibility." He says further conflict is inevitable but not imminent. "Not now, it will take Israel time to be ready. I'd say two years. Hizbullah knows that very well and they are working on it full-time."

Even in the border zone, patrolled by blue-helmeted international peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, Hizbullah is busy preparing for the next round of hostilities. The militants are so accepted by villagers in the area that no outsider gets to know what is really going on there. "Iron discipline reigns within the Hizbullah ranks," the Western military observer told AFP. "Promotion is only on merit and security vetting draconian. They're almost impossible to infiltrate and extraordinarily professional."

Retired Lebanese general Whebe Katisha has no doubt that Hizbullah "has retained its military potential and is preparing for the next assault. "UNIFIL knows nothing about what's going on in the Shiite zone. It's not an easy situation for the Lebanese army -- we don't have enough numbers, equipment or vehicles." He said that last month a container full of shells and missiles, sent by Iran via Turkey and Syria, was intercepted. "Hizbullah is Iran's vanguard against Israel," Katisha said. "If Iran is attacked, everyone knows that the response will begin with Hizbullah."

Shortly after last summer's devastating conflict ended, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the militant group's arsenal had been replenished, and that it now includes new weaponry. "Knowing their organization, their planning, I think they are going to go more on sophisticated air defense," Palmer Harik said. "Hizbullah is a great mixture of traditional guerrilla warfare and very advanced and efficient weapons." According to Goksel, "Hizbullah knows very well that next time it's going to be different. What did we do wrong last time, what will happen next time? They know the other side is studying too. If it happens tomorrow, they're ready."


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.