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Israel and Lebanese militia Hezbollah are ratcheting up the firepower on the border

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israel and the Lebanese militant and political group Hezbollah are ratcheting up the war of words and firepower on the border.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Israeli military says it's approved plans for an offensive in Lebanon if diplomatic efforts fail to stop the conflict - which is contained for now, for the most part, with the trading of fire across the Israeli and Lebanese border. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had stark warnings for Israel if they followed through.

MARTIN: To hear more about what's going on here, we're joined by NPR's Jane Arraf from Beirut. Jane, hello.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So Jane, Nasrallah spoke for more than an hour yesterday. What was the main point?

ARRAF: Well, he speaks fairly regularly, but these were his hardest-hitting remarks since the war in Gaza began last October - not just in rhetoric, but in what he was laying out. He said Hezbollah did not want to go to war, but he warned there was a possibility that that's what the current fighting could slide into. We have to remember the Lebanese state is extremely weak, and Hezbollah was created, with the help of Iran, largely to fight Israel after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Nasrallah said his group is much better armed now, and, as an example, he noted drone footage released this week with detailed images of potential targets in Haifa, Israel's major port city.

MARTIN: Jane, say more about that drone footage - and what's been the reaction so far in Israel?

ARRAF: Well, Hezbollah said the video was taken by an Iranian-made surveillance drone. It's nine minutes long and set to music. It shows high-resolution images of the port of Haifa and even individual vessels, and there are maps showing other potential target cities. Nasrallah last night said that was just a small part of what he called hours of surveillance footage they had from Israel. He gloated that, with all of Israel's air defenses, the drone was able to slip through them. And he said that, if there were war, Hezbollah would fight with what he said were no rules. As for reaction, Israel's foreign minister dismissed Nasrallah's remarks, saying that, if it came to war, Hezbollah would be destroyed and Lebanon severely hit.

MARTIN: Now, Nasrallah didn't limit his remarks only to Israel. He also widened out to the Mediterranean region and specifically threatened Cyprus. What was that about?

ARRAF: Nasrallah said Cyprus, part of the European Union, was hosting Israeli military training in its mountains, which are much like the mountains of Lebanon, and that Israeli fighter jets were using Cypriot air bases.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSAN NASRALLAH: (Non-English language spoken).

ARRAF: He said this made Cyprus part of the war. Israeli officials have acknowledged, in the past, Israeli military training in Cyprus. Cyprus, after the speech, said it was not involved in military operations and that it was playing a humanitarian role. But Nasrallah also made a wider point about the Mediterranean Sea. Here he is with interpretation from Iranian state TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NASRALLAH: (Through interpreter) If they open a war in Lebanon, the situation in the Mediterranean Sea would become completely different - all of the coastline, all of the ships.

ARRAF: And Israel also has interests in a gas field off the coast of Lebanon.

MARTIN: So how are things likely to play out now?

ARRAF: Analysts point out that speeches like this one, on both sides, are meant to act as a deterrent to escalation, and that the likelihood of that nightmare scenario Nasrallah laid out remains low, but not impossible. As has been the case since October, though, Hezbollah has made clear that until the conflict in Gaza is solved, its conflict with Israel won't be, either.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jane Arraf in Beirut. Jane, thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Jane Arraf
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.