Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - If Hizballah launches long-range missiles against the northern border, Israel will have no choice but to respond, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Monday.
Mofaz, currently in the U.S. on a three-day visit, his first since becoming defense minister, is meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on Monday.
According to press reports, Mofaz will primarily be discussing preparation and coordination between the U.S. and Israel in the event of a U.S. strike against Iraq.
Israel wants the U.S. to give them as much lead time as possible before an attack, but Washington is wary of giving too much advance warning because it is concerned about leaks of attack dates, the daily Ha'aretz reported on its website.
The Americans delivered two Patriot anti-missile systems to Israel last week, in advance of a joint large-scale anti-missile exercise.
Patriot anti-missile systems - though largely ineffective - were used in the 1991 Gulf War in an attempt to shoot down incoming Scud missiles fired by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein at Israel.
Then, as now, the U.S. is eager to keep Israel out of the fray, concerned that any counter-attack by Israel could endanger a fragile U.S.-led coalition against Saddam. Although, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made it clear that Israel will not refrain from responding as it did 11 years ago.
Speaking from the U.S., Mofaz said that he believed Iran was closer to obtaining nuclear weapons than Iraq, but a U.S.-led offensive against the Iraqi leader would send a clear message to Tehran.
He also warned that if the Hizballah fired long-range missiles at Israel, Israel would be forced to retaliate.
"South Lebanon today is in fact under the complete control of Hizballah - we call it Hizballistan," Mofaz said in an interview with Army Radio here. Syria allows Hizballah to use Lebanese soil as a launching pad for attacks against Israel.
He said that if Syria or Iran did not rein in the militant Islamic group, Israel would have to take action to get rid of the missile threat.
"I think that if Hizballah opens a second front against Israel by using long-range rockets against the northern part of the state of Israel we won't have much choice [but to respond]," Mofaz said.
Hizballah, which regularly fires Katyshua rockets at Israel's northern border with Lebanon, is believed to be in possession of much longer-range missiles, which could hit Israel's major northern population centers.
Israel has quietly warned Lebanon and Syria through diplomatic channels during the past year to rein in the Hizballah, indicating that it has no desire to open a second front in addition to its war against Palestinian terrorism.
Israel holds Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, responsible for the actions of the Iranian-backed group, which appears on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
Mofaz also met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday.
He was expected to raise the issue of three Israeli soldiers that were kidnapped by the Hizballah two years ago in a cross-border attack, and several recent incidents in the territories where U.N. personnel came under Israeli army attack, including one case where a high-ranking U.N. official was killed mistakenly by Israeli sniper fire.
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