Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that Hezbollah’s apparent success in Lebanon’s elections validates Israel’s policy of holding its northern neighbor responsible for the actions of the Shiite terror group.
“The results of the Lebanese elections strengthen what has been our approach for a while: Hezbollah=Lebanon,” said Bennett, a member the security cabinet and leader of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party.
“The State of Israel will not distinguish between the sovereign state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory,” the minister said in a statement.
Elections were held in Lebanon on Sunday. The country’s sectarian-based power-sharing politics meant no single alliance in the 128-seat parliament will enjoy a stable majority and analysts expect a fragile status quo to be preserved.
Hezbollah’s own estimates a few hours after counting started saw the Shiite movement coming out on top everywhere it fielded candidates, although only official results expected early Monday would confirm the vote’s outcome.
As provisional estimates trickled in, some candidates’ supporters started celebrating in the streets after a polling operation marred only by a few violations but no major incident.
With an increased number of seats in parliament, Hezbollah is expected to have an easier time building a majority in its favor on key issues such as the sensitive matter of the weapons it never laid down after the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah, which was estimated to have an arsenal of a little over 10,000 rockets during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, is now believed by the Israeli military to possess nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles today. Once a relatively minor terrorist group, Hezbollah is now considered the primary threat to the Israel Defense Forces. With significant experience from its fighting in Syria, Hezbollah has grown to become the enemy by which the IDF measures its preparedness.
At the same time, Israel has had nearly no direct clashes with Hezbollah in the almost 12 years since the Second Lebanon War.
On Sunday, defense officials warned that Iran is planning to retaliate for recent deadly airstrikes in Syria attributed to the Jewish state by having its proxies — possibly including Hezbollah — fire missiles at military targets in northern Israel sometime in the near future.