Looks Can Be Deceiving Along Israel's Northern Border

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Looks Can Be Deceiving Along Israel's Northern Border

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Six months after the war between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon, calm has returned, but most Israelis don't expect it to last.

Miriam Hod runs a guesthouse with her husband Haim in the northern Israeli city of Metulla that sits on the Lebanese border. For years, she and her husband watched from their balcony as Hizballah built bunkers and outposts at the border.

From the time Israel pulled its forces out of Lebanon in 2000 until the 2006 war, the army frequently kept residents of Metulla away from their orchards along the border fence because of fears that they might be kidnapped.

But those fears are gone now, said Hod.

"Everything is quiet. They pulled down all the Hizballah outposts. They [Hizballah] are not looking at us; they are not spying on us; they are not bothering us when we go out to work and pick the fruit along the border near the fence," Hod told Cybercast News Service on a recent trip to the northern Israel.

"They even wave to us in peace from the other side," said Hod. "They are not feeling threatened and neither are we."

Across the border from Metulla, there is traffic on the roads and construction activity -- what looks like houses going up. Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin on Tuesday confirmed that despite the apparent quiet, Hizballah is rebuilding in the south.

Yadlin said that Hizballah is rehabilitating its rocket launching capabilities depleted during the summer war and replenishing its rocket and arms arsenal.

He also was quoted as saying that weapons from Iran continue flowing to Hizballah.

In September, Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah boasted that his organization possessed more than 20,000 rockets - more than Israel estimated the group had before the war began.

Less than 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Metulla, Kiryat Shemona was the city hardest hit by the Hizballah rocket attacks this past summer. More than 1,000 of the 4,000 rockets and missiles that Hizballah launched at Israel during the 34-day war slammed into Kiryat Shemona and the surrounding area.

The scarred hillsides of northern Israel are still blackened from the fires sparked by the missiles.

Katyusha rockets have been a way of life for residents Kiryat Shemona on and off for decades, but they what happened this summer was worse than anything they'd experienced. They also believe Israel will have to fight another war on its northern front some time in the near future.

Freddy Mesika, 68, runs the lottery booth in town. He said he continued to work throughout the war - the only one in town to open shop. He pulled out a clipping from a Hebrew newspaper showing a wartime photo of his booth surrounded by customers.

Mesika is no stranger to Katyusha attacks. Twenty-five years ago, his son was wounded in a rocket attack on the city; and in 2000 his house was destroyed by a Katyusha rocket. During the summer, a rocket landed in the center of the road a few meters from his lottery booth.

Mesika said that he believes the situation will get worse because Hizballah wants to rule Lebanon. Although he counted it as an Israeli achievement that United Nations peacekeepers are stationed along the border and Hizballah outposts are torn down, he said he did not trust the situation.

The Lebanese didn't take away Hizballah's weapons as they were supposed to do, he said.

Israel is not interested in war and never was, said Mesika. "If we fight, it is in self-defense... We are fighting for our existence."

One of Mesika's customers, Yossi Ben Ami, 37, stayed in Kiryat Shemona during the war, although his family left.

"I'm a patriot," Ben Ami said. "I participated in distributing food to the shelters during the war."

He said he believes the whole world is heading for war, not just Israel, and he mentioned Iran as a likely provocateur.

Just down the street, El Ad Haim, 23, said he also is sure there will be another war in a year or two.

"Now it's quiet but dangerous," said Haim. Haim said he is bothered by the inaction of the world regarding Iran, h which is Hizballah's ideological ally.

"They don't understand. They're missing the whole picture. They're missing what is happening here, what happened to Kiryat Shemona, what happened to Israel," said Haim.

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