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Nasrallah, Barak trade invasion threats

Nasrallah, Barak trade invasion threats
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak holds a press conference in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem, where he announced that he is stepping down as the chairman of the Labor Party, January 17, 2011. Barak is forming a new political faction called Atzmaut, meaning "Independence" and he promised that it will be centrist, zionist, and democratic party. The unexpected move doesn't immediately threaten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline coalition. UPI/Debbie Hill | License Photo

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has declared his forces will invade Israel's northern Galilee region if a new Middle East war erupts.

A day earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that his troops may have to invade Lebanon, for the fourth time in 30 years, to teach the Iranian-backed Hezbollah -- read an expansionist Tehran -- a lesson.

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That may seem like typical Middle East machismo, with two longtime enemies taunting each other. It happens all the time. But all this saber rattling is taking place at a time when the Middle East is in turmoil, regimes are tumbling and more may fall.

Hezbollah and Israel are on edge for a complex combination of reasons and both are extremely twitchy.

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On Wednesday, Nasrallah urged Hezbollah's fighters to be ready to take Galilee, heavily pounded by Hezbollah rockets in its 2006 war with Israel, if conflict resumes.

"I say to the fighters of the Islamic Resistance: Be ready. If a new war is imposed on Lebanon we may ask you to take Galilee, to free Galilee," he declared in a televised speech to mark the movement's Martyrs' Day.

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He spoke from a hideout, one of several he has used since 2006 because he fears assassination by the Israelis if he appears in public.

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That testifies to the level of paranoia and sense of impending danger that pervades Lebanon and its environs these days.

Reports that Iranian warships were due to sail through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean had alarm bells ringing in Israel.

Barak told Israeli troops during a visit to the northern front on the Lebanon border Tuesday that they should be prepared to go into Lebanon as the Israeli army did in 1978, 1982 and 2006.

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"Even though it's quiet and deterrence exists -- Hezbollah remembers the heavy beating they suffered from us in 2006 -- but it's not forever and you may be called on to enter again," said Barak, a former general and his country's most decorated soldier.

Hezbollah lost around 500 fighters in that 34-day conflict but fought the might of the Israeli army to a standstill in south Lebanon and declared a "divine victory."

Both sides consider that stalemate unfinished business.

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Nasrallah spiced his bellicose speech by renewing a vow to avenge the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's iconic military chief, Feb. 12, 2008, in Damascus, supposedly at the hands of Israeli intelligence.

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"I don't want to go into details," he said. "Suffice to say that our decision … will be executed, God willing, at the right time.

"To the Zionist generals, I say: Anywhere you go in the world, at any time, watch out, for the blood of Imad Mughniyeh will not go to waste."

Israeli intelligence says six Hezbollah plots to avenge Mughniyeh, including one aimed at assassinating military chief of staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, have been foiled over the last three years.

The Israel-Lebanon border has been unusually quiet since 2006 but both sides have been bracing for another shooting war, which everyone believes will be much more devastating than the 2006 clash.

Next time, Hezbollah -- possibly aided by Iran, Syria and Tehran-aided Palestinian Hamas Islamists in Gaza -- is expected to unleash a massive missile and rocket assault on Israeli cities.

By all accounts, it will be on an unprecedented scale. In 2006, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into Israel. It's now believed to have more than 45,000 missiles and rockets, some capable of hitting anywhere in Israel.

Israeli casualties are expected to run into the thousands. Israel has vowed to retaliate by flattening Lebanon with missiles and airstrikes.

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Hezbollah, reportedly considerably aided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, has strengthened its defense lines in south Lebanon that caused the Israelis so many problems in 2006.

It has created an elaborate second network further north, with chain-of-command centers linked by a fiber-optic telecommunications system it claims can't be penetrated by Israel.

The Israelis, learning the lessons of 2006, have trained their forces for a massive ground offensive against Hezbollah and are developing a multilayered air defense system to counter the expected missile firestorm.

In January, the army, anticipating heavy attacks on its military installations, was reportedly planning to build massive bunkers under the Judean Hills.

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