Announcing a “new strategy,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday vowed to hold all of Lebanon responsible for any attack against Israel carried out by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.
“Israel’s interest is to prevent another confrontation in Lebanon, and so our new strategy is simple: Lebanon equals Hezbollah, Hezbollah equals Lebanon,” Bennett, a member of Israel’s security cabinet, said in a statement.
“Unlike the Second Lebanon War, this time we won’t differentiate between the organization and the State of Lebanon. This means any attack by Hezbollah will cause destruction throughout Lebanon and its institutions.”
Marking the 11th anniversary of the 2006 war, Hezbollah General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday threatened Israel with harsh attacks. Israel should relocate its Dimona nuclear reactor, he suggested, because it too is a target for his organization, and one whose destruction could have more dire consequences than an attack on the huge ammonia tank in Haifa that he had previously threatened to destroy.
Speaking from his hidden bunker to a Hezbollah event in the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon, Nasrallah warned that should Israel try to invade the country again, it would be met by a defending force 100 times more powerful than the force Israeli troops encountered in the previous conflict.
Nasrallah insisted that Israel was deterred from attacking Lebanon by the perception that it would pay too high a price for such an attack.
“Nasrallah, who wishes to be the ‘defender of Lebanon,’ will become the ‘destroyer of Lebanon,'” Bennett said Monday. “We do not seek war and will do everything to avoid it, but the other side must know there will be consequences for unilateral steps risking Israel’s security.”
Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, has often cited what he sees as a deep flaws in Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah as a reason for entering politics.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday did not respond to a query asking if Bennett’s “new strategy” was backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Monday’s statement was not the first time Bennett threatened to hold all of Lebanon responsible for attacks against Israel launched by Hezbollah. In April, he promised “tragic” consequences for the Lebanese people if the Shiite group were to strike Israel.
“Now that Lebanon has made it clear it is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon, it is time for Israel and the world to let the Lebanese public know: if a rocket or mortar is fired from Lebanon at Israel, it will be considered an act of war conducted by the Lebanese government; if Lebanon allows and enables terrorists to stage attacks from its sovereign territory, Israel will hold it accountable,” he wrote in The Times of Israel.
“Unlike last time, if we defend ourselves against a future Lebanese attack we will not use tweezers to search for a needle in a haystack: we will neutralize the haystack.”
Hezbollah has 12 seats in Parliament and two ministers in Cabinet, Bennett noted, citing senior officials in Beirut as saying that Hezbollah is “part and parcel” of the Lebanese government. “This leads to a simple conclusion: if Hezbollah attacks Israel, it is tantamount to a Lebanese declaration of war against Israel,” Bennett wrote.
“If we are forced to fight — and to be clear, we have no desire to go to war — we will view all Lebanese governmental institutions as potential targets: any place used as a launch site for rockets at Israel a military post; any village hosting munition storages or command centers a military base; any Lebanese building or infrastructure used to attack Israel would become a valid military target for us to strike.
“The results would be tragic for the Lebanese people.”
Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran’s Shiite regime, threatened earlier this year to target a massive 12,000-ton capacity ammonia tank in Haifa Bay with rockets in any future conflict with Israel.
Fears over the security risk the tank presents to the surrounding population — whether due to a catastrophic accident or a missile strike — were behind a prolonged campaign by local authorities to close the tank and have its contents moved to a safer and less populated location in the south.
Israel’s plans to move the ammonia tank demonstrate its respect for Hezbollah’s power, Nasrallah claimed on Sunday. Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona should also be moved, he said, because its destruction would be even more dangerous.
Nasrallah also scoffed at Israeli complaints to the United Nations over Hezbollah’s purported nature reserves along the border, which security officials say are just a cover for observation posts. Lebanese citizens, he said, should plant more trees since the Israelis fear them so much.
In June, the IDF published photographs and a film showing what it said were Hezbollah observation posts near the Israeli-Lebanese border, set up purportedly on behalf of an organization called “Green Without Borders.”
Israel’s envoy to the UN, Danny Danon, in a letter to the UN Security Council said Hezbollah’s purported use of such facilities under cover of the NGO is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006.
But the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) later said that while “Green Without Borders” members have planted trees in the area, it “has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the locations or found any basis to report a violation of resolution 1701.”
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.