Top Iranian cleric warns Hezbollah can raze Haifa and Tel Aviv to the ground

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami cautions Israel not to attack Tehran’s Lebanese proxy after IDF general says conflict could come this year

Iranian senior cleric Ahmad Khatami delivers his sermon during a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran, on January 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian senior cleric Ahmad Khatami delivers his sermon during a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran, on January 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A top Iranian cleric warned that Hezbollah now has powerful weapons and if Israel were to attack the Lebanese terror group, it could raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.

Speaking to worshipers on Friday, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, an ultra-conservative and a key leader of the main weekly Muslim prayers, was responding to a report that said Israel viewed as increasingly likely a fresh conflict with the Iran-backed Hezbollah by the end of the year.

Khatami said Israel had  already “tried its chance” in the past and was defeated, according to the Tasnim news agency, referring to the 2006 Second Lebanese War.

Hezbollah (then) turned the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa into “ghost towns” with its 70km-range missiles, he said, adding that Hezbollah is now much more powerful than before, according to Tasnim.

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

“If you want Haifa and Tel Aviv to be razed to the ground, you can try your chance once again,” the Iranian cleric said.

More than 4,000 missiles were fired at Israel during the 34-day 2006 war, prompting massive numbers of residents to flee their homes. The conflict left 163 Israeli soldiers and civilians dead. On the Lebanese side, there were more than 1,000 dead.

Israel believes Hezbollah currently possesses approximately 120,000 missiles and rockets in Lebanon. In a future war, the IDF estimates that the Iran-backed group will launch over a thousand rockets a day at Israel.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is tying to supply Hezbollah with increasing sophisticated and accurate missiles, and has several times attacked convoys transporting arms to Hezbollah.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon (photo credit: IDF Spokesman/Flash90)

The report said that Khatami was specifically reacting to an interview given by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of IDF Operations, to Army Radio in which he warned that the chances of war were higher than ever for 2018 in light of the battlefield victories in the Syrian civil war by the country’s dictator, Bashar Assad, and his allies Iran and Hezbollah.

“The year 2018 has the potential for escalation [of military conflict], not necessarily because either side wants to initiate it, but because of a gradual deterioration. This has led us to raise the level of preparedness,” Alon said.

It’s not the first time Khatami has threatened to “level” Haifa and Tel Aviv. 

In December, he threatened Iran would do it if Israel makes a “mistake.”

“We build missiles and we will increase the range of our missiles as much as we can, to thousands of kilometers, in order to deprive White House dwellers of a good sleep,” he said.

In this December 29, 2016 file photo, released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), a long-range S-200 missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr, on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, Iran. (Amir Kholousi, ISNA via AP, File)

“If one day the Zionist regime wants to make a mistake, we will level Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” he added.

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