Tension Rises as Iran Warns to Strike Israel Using Hezbollah Missiles

Published January 4th, 2021 - 07:45 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)

A threat by Iran’s air force commander to use the missile capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza in any potential confrontation between Iran and Israel Sunday sparked a widespread negative backlash, raising questions about Lebanon’s sovereignty and threatening to further complicate the already-stalled Cabinet formation process.

The remarks by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh that all the missile capabilities of Gaza and Lebanon have been supported by Iran, and that they were the front line in confronting Israel, are bound to heighten political tensions and divisions in a country already sharply split between a Western-backed camp opposed to Tehran’s growing influence in the region and the rival Iranian-supported camp led by Hezbollah.

The Iranian commander’s comments come amid spiraling tensions between Iran on the one hand, and the United States and Israel on the other, raising fears of a military confrontation between the two sides.

In addition to reactions to Hajizadeh’s remarks from Iran’s and Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents, President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by MP Gebran Bassil, a key ally of the Iran-backed Shiite party, also commented, stressing that Lebanon had no partner in preserving its sovereignty.

“There is no partner, for the Lebanese, in preserving the independence of their homeland, its sovereignty over its borders, its land, and its freedom of decision,” Aoun wrote on his Twitter account.

In what appeared to be an implicit criticism of the Iranian commander’s remarks, the FPM said any financial support Hezbollah gets from Iran should not be conditioned on abandoning national sovereignty or getting involved in external conflicts.

In a statement issued Sunday by its Media Central Committee, the FPM reaffirmed the “right of the Lebanese to defend their sovereignty, territory and [oil and gas ] wealth in confronting any attack by Israel or others.”

“The Lebanese are concerned with preserving the freedom of Lebanon and its decision-making, sovereignty and independence and the resistance exercised by the Lebanese to defend their territory must always serve these goals only,” the statement said. “Any support they receive must not be conditioned on ceding national sovereignty or getting involved in matters they have nothing to do with.”

Hajizadeh’s remarks drew a rebuke from Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s media adviser Hussein Wajeh. “Lebanon was not and will not be the front line in a confrontation on behalf of Iran. The Lebanese will not pay prices for the Iranian regime. Nonetheless, some Iranian officials insist on dealing with Lebanon as an Iranian province,” Wajeh tweeted.

Speaking in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US drone attack near Baghdad, Hajizadeh said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, on orders of the Islamic Revolution commander, supports any [country] that is on the front line to confront the Zionist entity.”

“Gaza and Lebanon are at the forefront of this battle. All the missile capabilities in Gaza and Lebanon are supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added.

The Gaza Strip is run by the Islamic Movement Hamas, a key ally of Hezbollah in the armed resistance against Israeli occupation. In addition to arming, training and funding Hezbollah, Iran also supports and arms Hamas in Gaza.

“We have taught our allies and friends in the resistance front the technology and capability to manufacture missiles. The Palestinians today are using missiles instead of stones [against Israelis]. This is what makes the Zionist entity’s officials fearful because the strength of the resistance axis today is no longer what it was 10 years ago,” Hajizadeh said. He added that the Palestinians are now equipped with precision missiles and possess the technology to manufacture them.

Referring to a statement made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that “if Israel committed any mistake against Iran, we will destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Hajizadeh said: “This was a comprehensive order and we are duty-bound to possess this strength.”

In an interview with the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen channel last week, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his group now had twice as many precision-guided missiles as it did a year ago, adding that Israel's efforts to prevent it from acquiring them had failed. Nasrallah also said his group had the capability to strike anywhere in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, an outspoken critic of Iran, warned against pushing Lebanon into a new military confrontation on behalf of Iran.

“In my previous statement, I’ve said that Iran was waiting to enter into dialogue with the new US administration and that the [Lebanese] government of specialists is a sort of novelty, hell broke loose. Today, with the winds of a confrontation blowing in every place, isn’t better for the resistance team to bear responsibility for the country with its partners? And why getting involved in participating [in a confrontation] where we have no decision on anything?” Joumblatt tweeted.

Commenting on the Iranian commander’s remarks, Phalange Party leader resigned MP Sami Gemayel said in a statement: “Lebanon and the Lebanese are a hostage in Iran’s hands through Hezbollah. They are using us as human shields in their battle which Lebanon has nothing to do with. The presidency, the government and Parliament are false witnesses and are covering up controlling Lebanon.”

Hezbollah has been criticized by its Lebanese and Arab opponents for its involvement in the war in Syria and other regional conflicts on behalf of Iran.

The raging row over the Iranian commander’s remarks came at a time when Lebanon has been left for more than four months without a fully functioning government to deal with multiple crises, including the worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War. The row threatened to cast gloom over the deadlocked Cabinet formation process.

Hariri’s attempts to form a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to enact reforms have foundered on rival factions’ jockeying for key ministerial seats, as well as lingering rifts with Aoun over the naming of Christian ministers and over who controls three sovereign ministries that deal with security: Defense, Interior and Justice.

 

In addition to refusing to grant veto power to any party in the next government, Hariri was also reported to have opposed allotting the Interior and Justice ministries to Aoun and the FPM.

Hariri’s return to Beirut this week from a family holiday abroad was expected to revive talks on the Cabinet formation crisis. Hariri’s latest meetings with Aoun last month failed to make any breakthrough in the Cabinet impasse as the two leaders stood firm on their unyielding positions.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al-Rai said Aoun and Hariri are capable of forming a new government if they rose above ministerial shares.

“The government will not be formed except through a meeting between the president and the prime minister-designate and their agreement on the formation of a government characterized by real independence and a democratic and pluralistic balance and with highly qualified ministers in their specialization,” Rai said in a sermon after leading Sunday’s Mass at his seat in Bkirki, north of Beirut.

“The president and the prime minister-designate are capable of taking this responsible and brave decision if they ignore pressures, rise above [ministerial] shares and portfolios and thwart various internal and external interventions,” he added.

Despite the collapse of his mediation efforts last month to facilitate the Cabinet formation, Rai has said he would continue his endeavor to break the deadlock and issued a warning to those obstructing the government formation.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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