Hizbullah Chief Nasrallah boasts about arms smuggling, setting off alarm bells in Jerusalem
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah slammed this week’s move by the Arab League to designate the Lebanon-based group as a terrorist organization, while accusing the Iranian proxy of supplying weapons to countries in the region.
Referring to the Palestinian Islamist faction Hamas as well as Shiite groups fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Nasrallah claimed that, “We have never transferred long-range missiles to any Arab state, but we did transfer arms to the forces of ‘resistance’ [anti-Israel organizations] in the Gaza Strip [including Kornet missiles, arguably the deadliest guided anti-tank missile in use today] and to fighters in Syria.”
When contacted by The Media Line, the Israeli Defense Ministry refused to comment on Nasrallah’s assertion that Hizbullah supplied weapons to the Palestinian enclave.
Dr. Meir Elran, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line that it would not be surprising if Hizbullah had indeed smuggled weapons into Gaza “Despite the differences between the two organizations, they have a robust common denominator, which is fighting Israel. Hamas is an ally in Hizbullah’s conflict with Israel.
“While Hamas is an extension of the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood,” he elaborated, “which is not necessarily Hizbullah’s cup of tea since it is a Shiite organization, when it comes to Israel, they have a common interest.”
Dr. Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, agrees with the basic premise. “For Nasrallah, giving arms to Hamas is part of the resistance against Israel,” he explained to The Media Line. “This is how they derive their popularity. What is more surprising, is that Nasrallah said he would end Hizbullah involvement in Iraq,” a move being construed as a possible concession amid growing tensions with Saudi Arabia.
In the wake of Nasrallah’s statements, Lebanese President Michel Aoun reiterated his view of Hizbullah as a legitimate component of the anti-Israel camp, adding that the organization “complements” the Lebanese army’s efforts to defend against threats from the Jewish state. To this end, Aoun asserted in a tweet that “Israeli [violations] still continue and it is the right of the Lebanese [people] to resist it and foil its plans by all available means.”
For his part, Lebanon’s army chief General Joseph Aoun upped the military’s preparedness along the shared border with Israel to “full readiness” and called on soldiers to be vigilant in “preserv[ing] stability.”
The posturing comes at a time when Riyadh and Tehran are locked in an intensifying struggle for control over the region, with many having viewed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation as a Saudi ploy to reduce Iran’s domination in Lebanon.
Israel, too, is concerned about the Islamic Republic’s growing presence in neighboring Syria and is working to ensure that Hizbullah and Iranian-supported fighters do not gain a permanent foothold in the country.
Earlier this week, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asked lawmakers to increase the military’s budget by more than $1 billion over the next three years in order to more effectively deal with the mounting threat to the north.
Israel views Hizbullah as the central military and political force in Lebanon and thus indistinguishable from the Lebanese government and the armed forces. In this respect, Hizbullah has in the past gained access to weapons and equipment supplied to the Lebanese Armed Forces by the United States. Moreover, the group continues to spurn UN Resolution 1701, which bans Hizbullah’s deployment south of the Litani River.
That an Iranian-led so-called “Shiite Crescent”—a land bridge spanning Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea crossing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—has been consolidated, Nasrallah’s claim that Hizbullah is capable of smuggling a limitless supply of arms throughout the Middle East has changed the strategic reality in the region.
For Israel, with Iranian proxies entrenched along both the northern and southern borders, Jerusalem must prepare for the possibility that, in any future outbreak of violence, two fronts will need to be defended simultaneously.