WASHINGTON – Israeli officials are extremely concerned about Hizbullah's growing strength in south Lebanon, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday.
Mofaz, who heads the Israeli team for strategic talks with the US, met Rice ahead of the strategic dialogue to be held later with the participation of 15 senior Israeli and American officials.
Hizbullah controls southern Lebanon and enjoys a "complete hold" over the area, Mofaz said, and added that the group doubled the number of long-range rockets it possesses. The minister said that while in the past the group secretly transported weapons, these days it is done much more openly, thereby allowing Hizbullah to equip itself rapidly.
Mofaz warned that Hizbullah is preparing itself for the next war and said that Security Council Resolution 1701 that arranged the Lebanon ceasefire has been virtually emptied of all substance. "The presence of UNIFIL and Lebanese Army forces in southern Lebanon is insignificant and does not constitute an obstacle in the face of Hizbullah's strengthening," he said.
Mofaz also spoke out harshly against the possibility of withdrawing from the Golan Heights, in contradiction to messages on the subject reportedly conveyed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"Handing over the Golan Heights to Syria means having the Iranians on the Golan Heights," he said. Mofaz warned that just like Iran has a foothold in southern Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip, it will also do the same on the Golan.
"In this reality, the Golan Heights is a strategic asset that must not be handed over to the Syrians," he said. However, in a talk with Israeli correspondents in Washington Mofaz said that "this doesn't mean that emissaries can't be sent and that messages can't be conveyed."
The minister also said that he spoke with Rice about the fact that the radical axis led by Iran and comprising Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas is gaining strength every year.