BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Hezbollah warns attacks on Iran, Syria would engulf region

BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned the United States and Israel Friday that any war on Iran or Syria will engulf the entire region, in a clear signal that his party will join the fight against the Jewish state by opening the south Lebanon front which has been dormant since the devastating 2006 conflict .

Addressing a Hezbollah rally marking the party’s annual “Martyrs Day,” Nasrallah also proposed as a solution for the escalating rift over the funding of a U.N.-backed court that the Arab League, friendly states or even any Arab prince pay Lebanon’s more than $30 million share to the court’s budget.

Referring to mounting Israeli threats in the past few days to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, Nasrallah said: “Whoever dares to launch a war against Iran will be met with double that force. Iran is strong; Iran is powerful and has a leader unique to the whole world.”

But Nasrallah, clearly addressing the United States and Israel, said: “They must understand well that a war on Iran and a war on Syria will not be confined to Iran or Syria. This war will roll over throughout the entire region. These are realistic calculations. This is the real situation.”

His speech came amid renewed pressure on Iran by the international community over its controversial nuclear program and against Syria over its brutal crackdown on an eight-month popular uprising demanding a regime change.

Hezbollah launched a guerrilla war against Israel’s 18-year occupation of a border strip in south Lebanon that ended in May 2000. Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli forces fought for 33 days in the summer of 2006 that eventually led to the deployment of reinforced U.N. peacekeeping troops in the south in line with Resolution 1701 that ended the devastating war that killed 1,200 Lebanese civilians.

The southern front has since been generally calm as the area is policed by the Lebanese Army and backed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeepers.

Nasrallah, speaking to supporters through a giant screen via a video link at the rally honoring Hezbollah’s martyrs held at a complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs, said Israel’s threat to strike Iranian nuclear facilities has evoked a firm response from the Iranian leadership, especially from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said Thursday that any U.S. or Israeli attack on Tehran’s nuclear sites would be met with “iron fists.”

The United States and Israel have refused to rule out any option to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. The Israeli threats against Iran came against the backdrop of a report released Tuesday by the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International AtomicTURN TO PAGE 10FROM PAGE 1Energy Agency, which said that Tehran had worked to design nuclear bombs. The White House described the IAEA report as “very alarming.”

Nasrallah said the U.S. and Israeli threats to attack Iran and Syria were intended as “a smokescreen” to cover “America’s defeat” as it withdraws its troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

“America wants to punish Iran and Syria because they supported the Iraqi people and the resistance in Iraq,” he said, adding: “The American intimidation is to keep the sword of threats brandished over Syria and Iran.”

Nasrallah, who last month reiterated his party’s rejection of funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, accused the United States of using double standards when it comes to the STL which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Citing Washington’s decision to cut off funds to the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, after members voted to admit Palestine as a full member, Nasrallah said he saw no reason why Lebanon should be expected to pay its share to the tribunal’s funding.

“Isn’t the funding of UNESCO an international obligation for the U.S.? Why can the U.S. administration shirk its international obligations and not Lebanon?” he asked. “If Lebanon doesn’t fund this unconstitutional and illegal court, Feltman comes along and threatens sanctions,” Nasrallah added, referring to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

As a way out of the impasse over the STL’s funding, Nasrallah said he backed a proposal by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who has suggested that the Arab League and friendly states finance UNESCO in response to America’s decision to cut off its aid to the U.N. agency.

Addressing March 14 leaders who have been exerting pressure on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to pay Lebanon’s share to the STL’s funding, Nasrallah said: “Leave Prime Minister Mikati alone, and instead appeal to the Arab League and friendly and nearby states to pay the tribunal’s funding … Any Arab prince can do this from [holding] a party in London or Paris.”

Nasrallah has called for a vote within the Cabinet if no agreement is reached among the ministers on the divisive issue. With Hezbollah and its allies holding the majority in the Cabinet, Nasrallah’s declaration effectively dashes any hope for the government to pay Lebanon’s dues to the tribunal.

The STL’s funding is emerging as a bone of contention within the Cabinet making up the new parliament majority and also between the March 8 and March 14 camps. Mikati is coming under pressure from the opposition March 14 parties and international powers to honor Lebanon’s commitments and U.N. resolutions, including the STL and its funding. The U.S has warned Lebanon it could face “serious consequences” should it fail to fund the STL.

Nasrallah said the collapse of the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Libya was a loss for America, but the collapse of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was “America’s biggest loss.”

Referring to March 14 leaders who support the anti-regime protests in Syria, Nasrallah said: “I tell those who are betting on the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime not to do so. This wager will fail as their previous bets had failed.”

Nasrallah ruled out the possibility of a new Israeli war on Lebanon: “This does not mean that we must rest assured … Israel will remain unable to launch any war. If it does one day, it will be its last adventure.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 12, 2011, on page 1.
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