Israel in doubt over Hezbollah's status

Feb. 22, 2007 at 12:39 AM   |   Comments

AFULA, Israel, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Two top Israeli officials have differing assessments of Hezbollah's recovery from losses sustained last year during the war in Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi says Hezbollah is having trouble regaining strength YNetNews reported.

"Hezbollah is attempting to regain the capability it lost during the war in Lebanon," Ashkenazi said Wednesday, "but a tour along the northern border proves that it is still far off from reaching this goal."

Ashkenazi's observation conflicts with that of Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, the head of the Military Intelligence's Research Division, who recently said Hezbollah has rehabilitated its forces, YNetNews reported.

Ashkenazi -- who was observing a Paratroopers Brigade drill in the Golan Heights with Defense Minister Amir Peretz -- said the Shiite group is smuggling arms in an effort to regain its long-range capabilities.

"But Hezbollah's capabilities have diminished," he said.

Asked why the drill was being conducted in the Golan -- where Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon meet -- Ashkenazi said Israeli forces were "prepared for any scenario."

Peretz said the exercise is part of Israeli planning 2007, which emphasizes increased training.

"The exercise does not constitute any declaration on our part vis-à-vis the existing tensions on the northern front," he said.

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