Hezbollah Threatens Tel Aviv

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 4, 2006

BEIRUT, Aug. 3 -- The leader of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, threatened Thursday night to fire rockets at Tel Aviv if Israel expands its bombing attacks against Beirut.

Nasrallah, in a dramatic televised statement, declared that Hezbollah's missile attacks on Israel are calibrated in response to Israeli air attacks on Lebanon. While warning of attacks on Israel's most populous city, he also said that if Israeli airstrikes cease, so will the rocket launchings such as those that killed eight more Israeli civilians Thursday.

Nasrallah, wearing clerical robes and speaking calmly from an unknown location, provided an unusually clear picture of Hezbollah's strategy in a careful hour-long review of the war so far. But he paid scant attention to diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to produce a cease-fire and a political settlement, including deployment of an international peacekeeping force along the border.

The chief Hezbollah spokesman, Hussein Rahal, said Thursday that the movement would not accept a cease-fire as long as Israeli forces remain on Lebanese territory. For its part, Israel has said its forces are determined to control the border area until international forces can be deployed.

Nasrallah called attention to a lull in rocket attacks Monday and Tuesday, a 48-hour period during which Israel had declared an abatement in its bombing campaign after an airstrike killed dozens of Lebanese civilians in the village of Qana. The halt came not because Hezbollah was unable to continue the rhythm of attacks, he said, but because the group's political leadership decided to match Israel's gesture.

The two-day period proved not only that Hezbollah's command-and-control structures remain intact, down to individual firing positions, Nasrallah said, but also that the radical Shiite Muslim movement is willing to scale down the cycle of attack and retaliation in order to spare civilian lives on both sides if Israel does the same.

"I would like to make clear that our rocketing of settlements is a reaction and not an act. It follows your aggression against our villages and towns," he said, addressing Israel. "Any time you decide to stop attacking, we will halt the rocketing of any settlement or city. We prefer the engagement of the military with the military."

Hezbollah's arsenal includes mostly short-range Katyusha rockets, unable to hit anything beyond Israel's northernmost towns and villages. But the militia also possesses longer-range missiles, including a large number that have hit Haifa and one that crashed to the ground 42 miles south of the border on Wednesday.

Nasrallah said his fighters also have rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv, about 75 miles south of the border, and will use them if Beirut comes under sustained attack.

"The enemy is threatening to bomb our capital," he said. "If you strike Beirut, we will strike Tel Aviv," he warned Israel's leaders and people. "The resistance is capable of that."

Beirut has been bombed repeatedly during the conflict, most recently early Thursday. But most Israeli airstrikes so far have been limited to the capital's southern suburbs, populated by Shiite Muslims and controlled by Hezbollah. Nasrallah's warning therefore seemed aimed at preventing a broader air campaign against the Lebanese capital like the devastating Israeli bombing of Palestinians here in 1982.

Hezbollah officials have said they feel confident they can hold their own against Israeli ground forces in the rugged border hills, where most of its fighters live and know the terrain intimately. In his televised statement, Nasrallah noted that Israeli troops are still fighting in the same border villages where they first encountered Hezbollah forces at the beginning of the war.

Israeli soldiers have been surprised by the tenacity of Hezbollah defenders dug into the border villages, he said, and by the vulnerability of Israeli armor to Hezbollah's antitank weapons. The Israeli army will face the same level of resistance as it tries to move north in the coming days, he added, and will have difficulty coping with the militia's guerrilla tactics.

"This will continue, in every place and in every direction," he said. "We are not a regular army, and we don't fight like a regular army."

Correspondent Nora Boustany contributed to this report.


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