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Hezbollah Leader Warns His Militia Can Inflict Casualties on Israel

Hassan Nasrallah
Hassan Nasrallah / AP
• February 17, 2016 12:25 pm

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JERUSALEM—Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned this week that his militia has the capability of inflicting casualties on Israel, comparable in numbers to those from an atomic bomb, by firing missiles at an ammonia plant in Haifa’s industrial zone.

In a speech broadcast from his secret bunker in Beirut, Nasrallah cited Israeli experts who have said there could be 70,000 casualties or higher if the ammonia plant is hit in another round of fighting with Hezbollah. The militia in fact tried to hit the industrial zone in its 2006 war with Israel but failed to strike any critical facility.

Israelis do not contest Nasrallah’s claim. Environmentalists and municipal officials, who have for years been trying to get the facility relocated, in fact applauded Nasrallah, tongue in cheek, for bringing the subject up as a national issue. "We are happy for help in putting the environmental issue on the agenda," said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, "even if it comes from a frightened man hiding in his bunker for years." He said the municipality has long wanted to get rid of the ammonia facility and an oil refinery from the portside industrial zone.

After the 2006 war, the Haifa municipality ordered a report from a British firm regarding the risks from the ammonia plant in the event of war. The report warned that in the event of a hit, the plant, which stores 15,000 tons of ammonia, could release a deadly cloud ten miles in diameter. Studies from the 1990s concluded that there could be 70,000 casualties or more.

Environment Minister Avi Gabay said following Nasrallah’s broadcast that a tender has already been issued for the construction of an ammonia facility in the sparsely settled Negev in southern Israel to replace the Haifa facility. "Israel does not have to conduct itself according to the threats of Nasrallah," said Gabay, "but we are happy that he raised consciousness about the issue."

Ironically, Haifa area residents may owe a real debt to Nasrallah. Infrastructure projects have a way of dragging out for years before execution. The specific warning from Nasrallah, and the knowledge that he now possesses precise weaponry he did not possess in 2006, will make it politically difficult for the government bureaucracy to keep the project on a back burner. In the 2006 war, Haifa—a mixed Jewish-Arab city—was hit by a number of Hezbollah rockets.

Nasrallah, in his speech, was in fact warning more than threatening. "We do not seek war nor do we want war," he said. "We must be prepared for war in order to deter against it. The residents of Haifa are worried (about the ammonia plant) with or without a war." Addressing Israel’s chief of staff, Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the Shiite cleric said "it’s simple mathematics. You have the strongest air force, you have missiles and you have other means. You can destroy Lebanon. But we can do the same thing. A few missiles aimed at ammonia plants equals the same amount of deaths as an atomic bomb."

Eizenkot, in a speech of his own yesterday, mentioned Nasrallah’s talk. The Israeli military, said the general, has "effective deterrence" against Hezbollah.

Published under: Hezbollah, Israel