REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Iran will not ask Hezbollah to intervene in the event of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, the leader of the militant group has told his followers. The Hezbollah chief also made the unusual acknowledgement that his group receives both material and financial aid from the Islamic Republic -- no secret to regional and world governments.
In a speech delivered Tuesday evening by video link to throngs of supporters, a black-turbaned Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Tehran will not ask Hezbollah for anything if Israel strikes Iran. He said, however, that Hezbollah would consider its options if such an attack occurs, ruling nothing out.
The U.S. government labels Hezbollah a terrorist group.
Recent reports about a potential Israeli military strike at Iran's nuclear facilities have spurred speculation that Lebanon-based Hezbollah could launch retaliatory attacks into Israeli territory.
While acknowledging that his group receives aid and support from the Islamic Republic, something that Hezbollah has generally left opaque, Nasrallah denied that Hezbollah takes its marching orders from Tehran.
"Yes, we have been receiving moral and political support and financial aid in all its possible ways and available forms from the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1982," Nasrallah said, according to Lebanese media accounts, in a speech marking the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.
Nasrallah was essentially confirming recent comments by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian leader affirmed that Iran has assisted Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
In his address, Nasrallah also denied allegations of Hezbollah involvement in money-laundering and drug- smuggling to finance its activities.
"We have sufficient money, weapons, ammunition and financial ability to carry out our duty," said Nasrallah.
In December, the Obama administration slapped sanctions on two Lebanese Colombian men and related companies for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. Media reports, quoting U.S. officials, say one of the firms was linked to an alleged drug boss who stood accused of operating a money-laundering scheme for Hezbollah.
The powerful Hezbollah cleric has hailed the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world. But Nasrallah has been less enthusiastic about the almost yearlong uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime ally of both Hezbollah and Iran.
In his speech, Nasrallah again proclaimed support for the embattled Syrian leader and his planned reform agenda, which many in the Syrian opposition dismiss as a sham designed to buy time for a doomed regime.
"They are saying that it's too late to make reforms," Nasrallah said, "but how is it too late and there is a war in Syria?"
-- Alexandra Sandels
Photo: Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via video link during a ceremony in Beirut marking the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. Credit: Bilal Hussein / Associated Press