HERZLIYA, Israel: Israel accused Hezbollah Wednesday of putting “thousands” of bases in residential buildings and said it would destroy these in a future conflict, even at the cost of civilian lives.
The unusually explicit threat by air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel appeared to be part of an effort by Israeli officials to prepare world opinion for high civilian casualties in any new confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel says Iran and Syria have supplied improved missiles to Hezbollah, which fought the technologically superior Israeli military to a standstill in a 2006 war in Lebanon.
“We will have to deal aggressively with thousands of Hezbollah bases which threaten Israel and mainly our interior,” Eshel said in a speech, citing Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon among the locations of the bases.
Other Israeli officials have alleged that Hezbollah uses Lebanese civilian homes as missile silos or gun nests.
Eshel said Hezbollah sometimes had entire storys of residential buildings ready, under lock and key, to be used in combat.
“Above and below live civilians whom we have nothing against – a kind of human shield,” he told the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, a think-tank near Tel Aviv.
“And that is where the war will be. That is where we will have to fight in order to stop it and win. Whoever stays in these bases will simply be hit and will risk their lives. And whoever goes out will live.”
Much of Hezbollah’s attention is now devoted to Syria, where its fighters have been helping President Bashar Assad battle an almost 3-year-old insurgency.
While content to watch Hezbollah and the Islamist-led Syrian rebels fight each other, Israel worries that its Lebanese foes will obtain more advanced weaponry from Assad’s arsenal.
On at least three occasions last year, Israeli forces bombed suspected Hezbollah-bound arms convoys in Syria.
Asked whether Israel had done too little to intercept such transfers, Eshel said Israeli forces still had the upper hand.
“I don’t think this is a failure,” Eshel said.
“I think the Israel has extraordinary deterrence which should not be discredited – significant deterrence, bought in blood.”