No war imminent with Hezbollah, Israeli commander says

JERUSALEM Mon Sep 21, 2009 8:34am EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel does not expect fresh hostilities with Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in the near future, mainly due to the deterrence it created during the 2006 war, Israel's top general said Monday.

Israel fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006, but the Jewish state's northern frontier with Lebanon has largely remained calm since then.

"Since the second Lebanon war, calm has prevailed ... it stems from the fact that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has managed to gain effective deterrence in the north," Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of Israel's military, said in a rare radio interview.

"I think Hezbollah is not interested, at least at the moment, in renewing actions. But at the same time we are not complacent, we are following events," he added.

Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets into Israel during the fighting, forcing a million Israelis into shelters and scoring a blow against the prestige of the mightiest military in the Middle East.

Israel sent warplanes to bomb Hezbollah strongholds in southern Beirut.

Hezbollah's rocket strikes killed 158 Israelis, including 41 civilians. Some 1,200 people died in Lebanon, including about 900 civilians.

"It is true that Hezbollah is arming ... I think the IDF has the answers, and in the end we are prepared and I know I can rely on the army. We are a strong, high-quality force," Ashkenazi said.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Jon Hemming)

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