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As Hezbollah awaits Israeli retaliation, its second-in-command insists it is not seeking war

By 37ci3 Apr19,2024

BEIRUT – Iran-backed Hezbollah It is determined not to escalate months of fighting over Lebanon’s southern border, but will respond in kind to any response. Israeli escalationthe second-in-command of the political party and militia told NBC News in a rare and exclusive interview.

Naim Qassem blamed Israel and the United States for continuing tit-to-tat attacks those who killed hundreds It displaced tens of thousands of civilians in southern Lebanon and on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border. In Hamas-ruled Gaza, the conflict began with a Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7 that killed more than 1,200 people and prompted a bloody Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip that has killed an estimated 34,000 since then, according to the Health Ministry.

“We didn’t expect the war to last this long because we didn’t think Netanyahu was so stupid for Biden and other countries,” said Qassem, as Israel’s two-front conflict enters its seventh month.

Deputy leader of Hezbollah, Naim Qasim
Lebanese Shia cleric and politician Naim Qassem, who is Hezbollah’s second-in-command, speaks to NBC News on Thursday.NBC News

As Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Qasim is second only to the group’s respected leader, Hassan Nasrullah.

Qassem’s comments came as Israel prepared a response to the unprecedented incident Iranian missiles and drones in response against the Jewish state—an expected crackdown that would bring the Middle East closer to regional war than at any time in recent memory.

But the last round of the fight between Israel and Hezbollah It began months before last weekend’s direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. Hezbollah is estimated to have more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, in addition to drones and anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship missiles. Reuters reportsWith reference to information from the CIA.

Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite political party and militant organization, emerged during Lebanon’s civil war in the early 1980s and was an active force during the Israeli occupation when it was tasked with driving Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon. country. The group has long declared its solidarity with the Palestinian cause. The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Hezbollah first struck the disputed border area in northern Israel on October 8, a day after Hamas attacked Israel. At the time, Hezbollah called the strike an act of “solidarity” with Hamas. Iran has been supporting Hamas for years.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a rocket and drone attack in northern Israel on Wednesday that injured 18 people, including 14 Israeli soldiers, saying the strikes were in retaliation for Israel killing two of the group’s commanders in a cross-border attack a day earlier.

Among the many Iranian-backed groups opposing Israel in the Middle East, Hezbollah is the most powerful and the biggest beneficiary. Iranian wealth.

Iran said Saturday night’s attack on Israel with more than 300 missiles and drones was the full measure of Israel’s response to an April 1 strike on the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus that killed two senior officials. Iranian commanders and five advisors Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Gasim said that Iran repeated its clear message to Hezbollah.

“Tehran speaks openly and frankly. They don’t want war and they responded to the attack on their embassy, ​​and this is their job,” Qasim said. “I think Iran is honest. That’s what they told us and that’s what they repeated to the media.”

Qassem on Saturday night criticized the three Arab countries – Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – that are helping to defend Israel against the Iranian missile.

“It is not adequate for any Arab nation to support Israel, regardless of their motivations,” he said. “Their population will hold them accountable for all who make this decision.”

Qassem blamed both Israel and the United States equally for the civilian casualties in Gaza, calling the recent public disagreement between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nothing more than cosmetic politics aimed at “protecting America’s image”.

“I think both Biden and Netanyahu share the same scheme with very small differences,” Qassem said.

In an interview with NBC News in November, Qassem said Hezbollah would push harder to fight Israel if the Jewish state continued to intervene in Gaza.

But after about six months, both Hezbollah and Israel mostly It was drafted by the “rules of engagement” – an undisclosed understanding between the two sides that has so far calmed the fighting and confined it to the border regions of the two states.

“We will not accept the Israelis violating the rules of engagement currently being imposed in southern Lebanon,” he said. “If the Israelis increase their attacks, we will also increase our attacks.”

While Israel is playing by the rules of engagement for now, senior Israeli officials have threatened to destroy Lebanon if Hezbollah gains strength.

In January, the assassination of a Hamas leader in Beirut was believed to have been carried out by Israel, and although Israel did not claim responsibility, it raised tensions.

Despite its limited activity, Qasim said Hezbollah’s fight “serves its purpose” by “pushing Israeli forces to engage in the north,” referring to their shared border, not Gaza, which borders Israel to the south.

“That’s why we’re going to keep doing it, and we’re not going to have a full-scale war until the Israelis decide to go to war against us,” he said. “Then we are ready for a full confrontation.”

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By 37ci3

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