BEIRUT: While both Lebanon and Hezbollah respect U.N. Resolution 1701, an appropriate response will follow if Israel attacks Lebanon, said Hezbollah secretary-general Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Tuesday.
“It is the Lebanese right to defend Lebanon’s sovereignty and dignity. If Lebanon was attacked, this aggression will be met with the appropriate response in defense of Lebanon, its people, sovereignty, security and dignity. There will be absolutely no red lines,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech marking the Shiite commemoration of Ashura.
However, Nasrallah emphasized that this does not mean the party does not abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
"Israel does not respect this resolution and does not implement it ... There are probably Israeli air violations happening now somewhere," he added.
Local media reported Israeli drones flying over multiple areas in south Lebanon ahead of and during Nasrallah’s speech.
The Hezbollah chief said that Israel violated all the rules of engagement that were adopted following Resolution 1701 when it sent two drones into Beirut’s southern suburbs in the early hours of Aug 25. One of the unmanned crafts crashed and the other exploded, damaging Hezbollah's media offices.
“The [Israeli] enemy has made thousands of violations [of Lebanon’s sovereignty] throughout the past 13 years, but there were red lines ... The latest assault on [Beirut’s] southern suburbs and sending drones with explosives was a great aggression,” Nasrallah said.
Tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have risen after the events of Aug. 25 and an earlier air strike in Syria that killed two Hezbollah fighters.
At the time, Nasrallah vowed that Hezbollah would retaliate against the Syrian air strike. Accordingly, the group targeted a military vehicle inside Israel last week in the biggest escalation between the two adversaries since 2006.
Israel responded by firing at least 40 incendiary and cluster devices toward Lebanese territory, according to the Lebanese Army.
Hezbollah also downed an Israeli drone in the early hours of Monday morning, on the outskirts of the southern border town of Ramieh.
The attacks raised the specter of a new confrontation, amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.
Nasrallah said Tuesday that any war against Iran would set the whole region ablaze.
“We are not on the sidelines and we will not be in the battle between right and wrong ... this proposed war will mark the end of Israel and the American presence in our region,” he said.
Nasrallah also addressed the recent U.S. sanctioning of the Lebanese Jammal Trust Bank for what it describes as “brazenly enabling” Hezbollah’s financial activities – a claim the bank has denied.
He said that sanctions on the party were not new, but they were now reaching people and organizations “that are not owned and not associated with Hezbollah, along with wealthy people and businessmen due to their religious, sectarian or political affiliation, which must be dealt with differently.”
He added that the government “must defend the Lebanese and protect them, and not rush to implement American desires and decisions ... this is unacceptable, rejected and condemned. This must be addressed because it [has] targeted Lebanon and the Lebanese economy.”
The first visit to Lebanon by David Schenker, the new United States assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, was also commented upon. Nasrallah said that the envoy, who is tasked with mediating the land and maritime demarcation dispute between Lebanon and Israel, was serving Israel’s interest.
“When we have an American envoy who is a friend of Israel ... is keen on Israel’s interests and wants to negotiate with our officials on oil, gas and the borders, the Lebanese must know [that] and act from a position of strength,” he said. “The [Lebanese] are able to protect their oil, gas, lands, waters and skies.”
Touching on local issues, Nasrallah called upon Cabinet to take responsibility and approve key state appointments on the basis of ability, since reforms cannot be made without a competent administration and a transparent judiciary.
Cabinet is set to meet Thursday for a session chaired by President Michel Aoun to address a 29-item agenda, including key judicial appointments.
Regarding the 2020 budget, which Cabinet is expected to begin discussing next week, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah will seriously examine the plan, as it did in the 2019 budget. He added that the party will stick to its principles in rejecting any measures set to impact people with limited incomes.
“Instead of taking from the poor we should look for the rich who filled their pockets and bank accounts illegally with public funds,” Nasrallah said.
Lebanon is under increasing pressure to enact austerity measures as part of a series of economic and fiscal reforms agreed to at last year’s CEDRE conference in Paris. In return, the international community pledged over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to support a number of infrastructure projects.