Israel digs in for next
war with Hezbollah 

 Agence France-Presse 

NAHARIYA, Israel — Six months after the guns fell silent in Lebanon, northern Israel is still busily preparing new bomb shelters and repairing damaged facilities in anticipation of the next war with Hezbollah.

In Kyriat Shmona, Israel’s closest town to the border with Lebanon that was battered by more than 800 Hezbollah rockets during fighting between July 12 and August 14, local authorities are scrambling to construct enough subterranean room for everyone.

“We only have enough shelters for 60 per cent of the 24,000 people living in the town and they need to be furnished with air conditioners, televisions and Internet connections so people can live normally for a long time,” said mayor Haim Barbibay.

He admitted that fitting out and building additional shelters, bankrolled mostly by private funds, will not be complete before the end of the year.

“The next conflict will affect the whole country and the population will inevitably be displaced, as happened last summer,” Barbibay said. Nearly half a million Israelis living in the north fled further south during the war.

Already entrenched in the northern Israeli mindset, expectations of an approaching war intensified after National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s warning that Israel should prepare for fresh conflict this year.

The area is still recovering from the damage incurred by more than 4,000 Hezbollah rocket attacks during the conflict with the Shiite fundamentalist militia which killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and at least 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

The vast majority of Israelis consider the war a failure for the military’s inability to stop the rocket attacks and recover two soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah guerrillas triggered the conflict.

Underscoring what millions in the Jewish state see as a constant threat in the north, last week Israeli and Lebanese soldiers exchanged cross-border fire for the first time in decades.

Haifa, the metropolitan capital of northern Israel, is also preparing for a nationwide conflict, says Shmuel Gants, director general of the municipality, who likewise admits that the number of shelters in the city is not enough.

“We are putting the emphasis on preparing the population psychologically that they should stay put during a crisis,” he said.

At a hospital in the Mediterranean holiday resort of Nahariya, also within rocket range of southern Lebanon, two rooms smashed by two rockets last summer have yet to be repaired.

Oxygen units are still hanging from walls, cracked by the impact from steel ball-bearings from inside the rockets. Rolls of paper remain in place in the bathrooms, despite rubble and metal bars strewn on the floor.

Fortunately, patients had been transferred to an underground room before the attack, built so that the hospital could function in time of war.