Hezbollah Says It Will Strike Heart of Israel if Lebanon Is Hit

BEIRUT

Hezbollah is ready to strike the heart of Israel in the event of new aggression on Lebanon, the party’s deputy chief said on Wednesday, a day after deadly clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops.

“Israel must understand that any aggression on Lebanon, no matter how small, gives us the complete right to retaliate when and how we find appropriate and in line with Lebanon’s political interests,” Sheikh Naim Qassem told AFP in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

“Hezbollah chooses when to be patient and when to retaliate,” he added.

Hezbollah and its arch-foe Israel fought a 34-day war in the summer of 2006 that destroyed much of Lebanon’s infrastructure. More than 1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.

Qassem’s comments came a day after the worst clashes along the border since the 2006 war. The fighting, in which four people were killed, also marked the first serious confrontation between Lebanese and Israeli soldiers in decades.

Israel in recent months has warned that it would target Lebanese institutions if Hezbollah, which has two ministers in Lebanon’s unity government, fired rockets across the border.

But Qassem was unfazed and said the Shiite party, the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, was capable of facing Israel’s military might although it was not looking for a fight.

“When Israel threatens to destroy Lebanon, it knows Hezbollah is capable of making Israel suffer accordingly,” Qassem said, adding that he did not expect conflict in the immediate future.

“Israel’s territory will be completely exposed and they will have to bear responsibility for that aggression and pay the price.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has previously said that his group, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has the military prowess to reach Tel Aviv airport and other strategic targets inside Israel.

Nasrallah said following Tuesday’s clashes that he had restrained his forces to avoid an escalation but that he would not stand idle if the Lebanese army comes under fire again.

Sheikh Qassem said his party held the UN Security Council responsible for all Israeli “violations” of Resolution 1701 which ended the 2006 war, including the latest skirmish.

Tension has been on the rise in Lebanon since Israel accused Hezbollah of stockpiling sophisticated weapons earlier this year in anticipation of a new conflict.

But Qassem brushed aside questions on his party’s military capability, saying simply that it had reached a “balance of deterrence” with the Jewish state.

“We have repeatedly said that the Islamic resistance is highly prepared… and does not need time to get ready to defend itself and move straight into action.”

Hezbollah is the only group that refused to disarm after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, arguing that its weapons are necessary to fight Israel, which occupied mainly Shiite southern Lebanon for 22 years until 2000.

The militant group fired close to 4,000 rockets in the 2006 war, and Israel estimates that Hezbollah has since stockpiled more than 40,000 rockets, some of which could reach major population centres.

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