IDF chief downplays Hezbollah threat against Haifa

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened Israel on Tuesday, saying the Shiite terrorist group would not hesitate to “turn the ammonia tank in Haifa into our atomic bomb” and that “it would only take a few missiles to wreak havoc” on Israel.

In response to Nasrallah’s threat, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said on Wednesday that Israel has “effective deterrence” against Hezbollah.

Eisenkot said Hezbollah is Israel’s most formidable adversary, but that the border with Lebanon has been Israel’s quietest in the decade since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

In an interview aired by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network on Tuesday, Nasrallah quoted unnamed Israeli experts as saying that “our mid- and long-range missiles can cause Israel severe damage.”

Located in the heart of the Haifa Bay Industrial Zone, Haifa Chemicals’ ammonia processing and storage facility was founded in 1989. It stores all the ammonia imported by Israel, and can hold up to 12,000 tons of chemicals.

While ammonia is one of the most commonly produced industrial chemicals, it is highly toxic, and the facility’s proximity to residential areas has made it the focus of environmental, industrial, and security concerns. Environmental experts say that should the facility be compromised by a malfunction, natural disaster, enemy action or terrorist attack, the results could be catastrophic and cause thousands of deaths.

The defense establishment believes Hezbollah is in possession of some 100,000 rockets and missiles, which give it the ability to strike the entire country.

While Nasrallah noted that Hezbollah was not gearing for a fresh conflict with Israel in the near future, he said Israel “was aware” of the group’s ability to target the ammonia facility, “which could kill more than 800,000 people.”

Lebanese media questioned the interview’s timing, saying it came amid rumors suggesting Nasrallah’s health has taken a serious turn for the worse. Some report said Hezbollah’s leader was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and that he has been hospitalized in Tehran, where he is under the care of Russian specialists.

Commenting on Hezbollah’s threats, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said: “The Haifa Municipality is waging a daily war against the crimes carried out by the state against the residents of Haifa Bay in recent decades. We will continue to use every means at our disposal to ensure the health and safety of the area’s residents and the removal of the ammonia facility.

“While I don’t believe we should run the country according to Nasrallah’s speeches, I welcome anyone turning the spotlight on this important and disconcerting issue — even if he happens to be a coward hiding in a bunker in Lebanon.”

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai said: “The ammonia facility is an environmental and security risk. We are pursuing its removal from Haifa by constructing an ammonia production plant in southern Israel, and we are currency considering bids.”

In October 2013, the government decided to relocate the ammonia facility to the Negev Desert in southern Israel. A government tender for this was issued in mid-2015, and is expected to conclude in late March.

Gabai noted the main reason for the delays in the facility’s relocation was “high gas prices. The plant needs gas to process ammonia. We have approached Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on the matter, asking that he set specific gas fees for the new facility, and we are waiting for a solution on the issue.”