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Emboldened by US jibes, Hizbullah prepares for war

As US and Israel hold talks, Hizbullah is amassing weapons near Israel's border.

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A heated diplomatic campaign waged by the United States and Israel against Iran and its Lebanese protégé, Hizbullah, could have an unintended and potentially destabilizing backlash.

Instead of cowing Tehran and its Islamist allies, the verbal salvoes and Israel's hardline policies against the Palestinians are providing encouragement and inspiration to Hizbullah and radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The result could be a new explosion of violence in the Middle East.

"Hizbullah and Iran feel comfortable that the drums of war are beating so loudly," says Professor Nizar Hamzeh, head of the political science department of the American University of Beirut.

Israeli officials claim Iran is leading a "coalition of terror" and have accused Hizbullah of deploying 10,000 rockets in southern Lebanon.

Israel's accusations have received sympathy in Washington. Last week, President Bush described Iran as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea. Ironically, Hizbullah and Iranian conservatives take quiet satisfaction from the increasing polarization between Washington and Tehran.

"Hizbullah's long-term interests of liberating Jerusalem and forging an Islamic anti-Israel resistance have been given a boost because of the collapse of the peace process and the post-September 11 events," Professor Hamzeh says.

The indication emerging from south Lebanon is that Hizbullah is preparing for war. Hundreds of battle-hardened fighters, veterans of Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, are marshaled along the border with Israel. A massive arsenal, including rockets and missiles, has been stashed away in the border district, confirm well-placed sources in southern Lebanon.

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