BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said Tuesday he was convinced a Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda group with direct links to Saudi intelligence was behind last month’s deadly bombing outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
In a live interview on OTV, Nasrallah also took aim at Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s policies on Iran and Syria, saying Riyadh was maintaining a hostile stance toward Tehran despite Iranian efforts for rapprochement and seeking to derail the planned Geneva 2 talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict.
“We believe the Abdallah Azzam Brigades’ statement about the bombing ... this is a bona fide group that has a Saudi Emir and its leadership is directly linked to Saudi intelligence,” he said.
“Some of the branches that endorse the Al-Qaeda logic have been put into action by Saudi intelligence,” Nasrallah said, accusing the Saudi agency of operating Al-Qaeda-like groups in several parts of the world.
On Nov. 19 Iran’s Embassy in Beirut was the target of deadly suicide bombings claimed by the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda group that warned of further attacks if Hezbollah failed to withdraw its fighters from Syria.
Lebanon has identified the two suicide bombers involved in the bombings. The two men, a Lebanese and a Palestinian national, were both residents of south Lebanon.
“The Iranian Embassy bombings are also linked to Saudi Arabia’s anger with Iran because it holds Iran responsible for its own failure in the region,” Nasrallah said.
Following the attack, Hezbollah and Iranian officials blamed Israel for the bombings, arguing the Jewish state was the primary beneficiary of such acts. Hezbollah also accused jihadists of executing the attack.
During the interview, Nasrallah also blamed Saudi Arabia for the frozen ties between Riyadh and Tehran, saying the kingdom had stifled ever effort to mend relations between the regional heavyweights.
“Iran’s administration has been trying to open doors with Saudi Arabia for years now but all these attempts failed because Saudi Arabia closed these doors,” Nasrallah said.
“Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said on several occasions that he is willing to visit Saudi Arabia ... but Saudi Arabia has not yet issued any positive response,” he said, referring to the recent visit by Zarif to Arab states following the historic deal over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Nasrallah said Riyadh had maintained a hostile policy toward Iran, including fighting proxy wars in different countries, ever since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
He also dismissed that the differences between Riyadh and Tehran were sectarian based.
“Saudi Arabia wants all countries and governments in the Arab and Muslim worlds to be under its command which is why I don’t see the dispute between [ Iran and Saudi Arabia] as sectarian but merely political,” Nasrallah said.
“Saudi Arabia has seen Iran as an enemy for a long time ... but it lacks the courage to engage in a direct military confrontation with anyone,” he said.
Iran, Nasrallah said, was the “primary powerhouse in the region that wields the greatest influence.”
During the interview, Nasrallah also confirmed reports he had recently received a delegation from Qatar in Beirut but did elaborate on the reasons behind the meeting.
Nasrallah said his party had maintained a channel of communication with Doha despite differences between the two over the crisis in neighboring Syria.
“There has never been agreements over certain issues but communication is open [between us],” he said, adding that communication also existed between the Turkish envoy to Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Nasrallah spoke extensively about his party’s involvement in the crisis in neighboring Syria that has come under heavy scrutiny both within and outside Lebanon.
He said Hezbollah’s role in Syria was needed to prevent Lebanon plunging into Iraq-style violence and denied claims Iran had forced his group to intervene to keep President Bashar Assad in power.
“If we had abandoned our responsibilities, Qusair, Qalamoun [in Syria] would have fallen in the hands of armed groups and Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria including the Bekaa Valley would have been infiltrated by armed groups and there would be have been 100s of explosive-rigged vehicles sent to the southern suburbs of Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon,” he said.
Nasrallah said the infiltration of gunmen along Syria’s border with Iraq had led to a dramatic increase of car bombings in Iraq which he said Hezbollah was trying to prevent from occurring in Lebanon.
“They [the gunmen] attack those who don’t adhere to their logic ... even Sunnis,” he said.
Nasrallah reiterated the main reason his party was in Syria was to protect Lebanon, arguing that the group’s intervention remains limited to Damascus, Homs and border towns.
Although he did not specify the exact number of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria, Nasrallah said reports by “March 14-affiliated local media” of 250 were false.
“The number was actually much less than we had expected,” he said.
Turning to his rivals in the Future Movement, Nasrallah accused former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of funding and arming rebel groups without guarantees.
“I ask Saad Hariri and [Future MP] Oqab Saqr, [you] who intervened in Syria right from the beginning by funding and arming [rebels], whether they have any guarantees for Lebanon’s future,” he said, referring to the threat of Takfiri groups against Lebanon.
On the situation in Syria, Nasrallah reiterated his accusation that Saudi Arabia was trying to obstruct the second round of talks aimed at resolving the crisis politically.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia insists on fighting [in Syria] to the last bullet and to the last drop of blood ... it cannot tolerate a political solution,” he added.
“From now until Jan. 22 [when talks are scheduled to convene], there could be very violent confrontations in a suicidal push ... by a direct order from the Saudi administration,” Nasrallah said.
He also commented on the ongoing clashes in Tripoli between supporters and opponents of Assad, accusing security forces of funding and arming local militias in the northern city.
“We know that the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces over the period of three to four years has funded armed groups and used to transport their ammunition in police vehicle,” he said, referring to the years when former Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi was head of the ISF.
“The situation in Tripoli has become extremely dangerous and chaotic and its repercussions could engulf the entire country,” he warned.
The Hezbollah chief reiterated his support for a Cabinet formula which grants rival coalitions veto power and accused Saudi Arabia once again of blocking the formation of a new government in Lebanon.
He also said he preferred that the March 8 coalition hold meetings to choose a candidate for the upcoming presidential election and work toward securing their candidate wins.
Commenting on the recent tensions at Saint Joseph Universite over student body elections, Nasrallah said the aim of allegations that Hezbollah was “taking over” the school were mainly directed at the party’s allies in the Free Patriotic Movement and MP Michel Aoun.
"What happened in USJ was not directed at us but [indirectly] at the Free Patriotic Movement and [former] Gen. Aoun," Nasrallah said, adding that the reason behind campaigns against his Christian ally was over the Memorandum Of Understanding between Aoun and Hezbollah.
USJ last week suspended classes after several confrontations between students from Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces on campus.
The original fight, which prompted intervention by security forces, appeared to have started when some students drew the name of Habib Chartouni, the man who assassinated President-elect Bashir Gemayel, with a heart under it on a wall facing the university.
“I vow that if the student who wrote Chartouni’s name on the wall is a member of Hezbollah, I will hand him over to the police and judiciary,” Nasrallah said.
He also said his party had no intention of “taking over the university” as claimed by some March 14 lawmakers.