BEIRUT – The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah warned Israel Friday his fighters would hit Tel Aviv with rockets if Israeli forces attack Beirut or the guerrillas' stronghold in its southern suburbs.
Speaking on the anniversary of the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said the Shiite militants are now capable of striking any Israeli city.
In 2006, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah rocketed the port of Haifa and other parts of Israel's north but spared Tel Aviv to the south. Israeli warplanes destroyed entire blocks in Beirut's southern suburbs, including Nasrallah's office and Hezbollah's headquarters. The inconclusive, monthlong war killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of the civilians, and about 160 in Israel.
Nasrallah's speech added to the tension of back-and-forth warnings between Hezbollah and Israel that have escalated since a July 14 explosion at a suspected Hezbollah arms depot near the Israeli border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel would hold the Lebanese government responsible for any attacks on Israeli targets by Hezbollah. He warned Lebanon against letting Hezbollah join the new government. He said the government in Beirut could not turn a blind eye to Hezbollah's activities while the group sits in the Lebanese parliament and plays a major role in the country's politics.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak made an even starker warning last week, saying that in the event of renewed hostilities, Israel would "go after not only Hezbollah but the entire state of Lebanon."
Nasrallah, appearing on a giant screen from his hiding place, addressed thousands of supporters waving yellow Hezbollah flags who gathered for the rally in south Beirut. He said recent Israeli warnings against Lebanon do not signal that Israel is planning to attack soon.
He said the Israeli warnings were part of a "psychological war" aimed at preventing the militant group from joining a new Lebanese unity government, whose formation has been stalled since the June 7 election.
"Today we are capable of striking any city or village" in Israel, Nasrallah told the crowd. He promised "surprises" if Israel launches a new war on Lebanon. He did not elaborate.
"It is our right to make (Israel) understand that if it bombs Beirut or the southern suburbs, we will strike Tel Aviv," Nasrallah said, drawing the cheers of supporters.
The 2006 war began when Hezbollah guerrillas launched a cross-border attack that killed three Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah calls the outcome of the war "a divine victory" because Israel failed to crush the guerrillas, who withstood massive Israeli airstrikes and artillery bombardment.
A U.N.-brokered cease-fire has held despite the threats from both sides.