Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary general of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, has stressed that Israel is not ready for a confrontation with Lebanon.
“I don’t think Israel is ready to start a conflict with Lebanon now because the situation is complicated and Israel is not interested in war,” Sheikh Qassem said in an interview with a Lebanese TV channel on Sunday.
“But if it wants to launch a war, we are ready,” he added.
Qassem also dismissed allegations made earlier in the day by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Hezbollah controlled the new government in Lebanon, “and thus Iran controls it.”
“These allegations are not important. Hezbollah considers itself part of a national unity government in Lebanon,” the cleric said.
The senior Hezbollah leader noted that only three of Lebanon’s new government ministers are members of Hezbollah. “We are only 10 percent,” he said.
Late in January, Lebanon’s presidency announced the formation of a new government, putting an end to a nine-month stalemate on the political stage.
The breakthrough came after rival factions worked out a compromise allowing representation of Sunni lawmakers backed by the Hezbollah resistance movement.
Rival political groups had been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since May, after the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years.
Hezbollah has taken three cabinet posts in the new government, the largest number of portfolios it has ever held.
The movement has received the health portfolio, the first time Hezbollah has controlled a ministry with a big budget. The resistance movement has chosen Jamil Jabak as the new health minister, despite the fact that he is not a member of the movement.
Reports have attributed Hezbollah’s bigger role in Lebanon’s new cabinet to Syria war gains.
Hezbollah forces have been assisting the Syrian government on the ground to clear areas bordering Lebanon from terrorist groups.
“This transformation is because Hezbollah has accumulated an excess of power after it has nearly finished with the military battles in Syria,” Salem Zahran, an analyst with links to Hezbollah leaders, said.
“I believe that Hezbollah will build up even more involvement in the Lebanese state,” he added.
Briefing a delegation of United Nations leaders who are in Israel on a mission headed by Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon, Netanyahu also spoke about an operation which Israel launched with the aim of “cutting off” Hezbollah tunnels near the occupied territories.
“Just as we stopped the tunnels, we will stop all acts of aggression from Lebanon, Syria or Iran,” the Israeli premier said.
Last week, Hezbollah head Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah openly mocked Israel’s claims that it had discovered secret tunnels used by the group on the border between Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories.
He said Israel was deeply wrong to think that the closure of tunnels would save it from future attacks by the resistance movement.
“What surprises us is that the Israelis were late to discover these tunnels … some of those tunnels preceded the 2006 war,” Nasrallah said.
Lebanese stage anti-Israel protest along border
About 60 Hezbollah supporters rode motorbikes along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel on Sunday afternoon to express support for Hezbollah and protest against Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.
Their slogan was “To al-Quds on millions of cross bikes.”
“We’re ready if you ask,” one of the convoy members said, referring to Nasrallah. “If you want us on cross [motorbikes], then we are at your service.”
Since the end of the 2006 war, Israeli forces have regularly violated Lebanese airspace and made incursions into its territory.
Israel is building a 130-kilometer-long border wall with Lebanon, parts of which Beirut says are located on disputed border points.
Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s following the Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon.
The movement waged a long resistance campaign against Israeli forces and pushed them out of southern Lebanon in May 2000. Since then, the group has grown into a powerful military force. Israel also suffered a humiliating defeat from Hezbollah in the 2006 war.