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LEBANON: Hezbollah says it won't provoke Israel clash over Gaza

December 29, 2008 |  1:33 pm


Will Hezbollah or won't it?

That's the question on the minds of many throughout the Middle East.

Will the Shiite militia which fought Israel to a stalemate in the summer 2006 war intercede militarily on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza or won't it?

The answer so far seems to be a resounding "no."

At least, that is what the Shiite militant group has strongly suggested over the last couple of days.

On Sunday evening, in an address to Shiites in Beirut’s southern suburb, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah made it clear that his party would not actively seek to provoke an Israeli attack against Lebanon and would only react to defend itself.

We should be aware that this bad timing amid Arab collusion, an international void, an economic crisis and the U.S. political vacuum between Bush and Obama, might tempt Israel to take a certain action against Lebanon, especially since they need to make such a move for political and electoral gains.

He also denied any responsibility for a set of rockets discovered along the border with Israel last week, stating even that the Jewish state might have actually planted them to find justifications to strike Lebanon.

Lebanon has to be cautious and not to underestimate what is happening around it. ... I have asked the brothers in the resistance in the south specifically to be present, on alert and cautious because we are facing a criminal enemy and we don't know the magnitude of the conspiracies being weaved around us.

In his recent speeches, Nasrallah focused instead on galvanizing the Arab world to push their governments to provide more support to the Palestinians.

Many in Lebanon believe their country has already paid a dear price for the Arab cause in their many conflicts with Israel. The fear remains that the Lebanese border with Israel will flare up again, as it did in the summer of 2006 when Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah.

But with the current deployment in the southern border regions of Lebanon’s army, along with thousands of international peacekeeping troops, there are logistical complications as well.

The possibility of a military confrontation between Hezbollah and the Jewish state would be far more complicated than in 2006.

At a large rally gathering tens of thousands of Hezbollah supporters this afternoon, Nasrallah voiced support for the resistance in Gaza and urged the Palestinians not to surrender.

But when it came to Lebanon’s role in stopping the Israeli attacks, he said his country’s response should be political rather than military. Nasrallah called on the Lebanese government to play an active role against the Gaza raids by pressing Arab leaders to convene and support the Palestinians:

The president is requested to play a central role and make his brave voice heard in support of the oppressed Palestinian people.

He also offered up some interesting analysis about the nature of the conflict between the United States and Israel on the one hand and Hezbollah, Iran and its allies, including Hamas, on the other. He said he doesn't buy the notion that the friction between the two alliances is some kind of clash of civilizations. To him, it's just about power:

The U.S. administration’s scheme is to establish the Zionist entity over the heads of all Arabs in the region. It does not care who governs Arab states. In principle, the U.S. administration has no objection if an Islamist, extremist or fundamentalist rules any Arab country. What’s important for the U.S. is the ruler’s political program and his stance regarding Israel and the U.S. Will he sell his oil and yield to Washington and Tel Aviv’s political and economic terms or not?

Nasrallah has devoted the bulk of rhetoric to lambasting other Arab regimes. He harshly criticized Egypt’s government and called on officials there to open their border crossing with Gaza to help Palestinians remain steadfast in the face of Israel.

What is the nation’s responsibility today? To triumph, the central objective is to work on stopping the aggression against Gaza. ... Arab peoples should press their governments to take action even if this leads to face their regimes with their chests. ... Arab governments should not take weakness as a pretext not to act and Arab people should not take their government’s suppression as a pretext not to take action.

Nasrallah struck a sensitive note in the Egyptian street by calling on people to stand against what he called the Hosni Mubarak regime’s acquiescence to Israeli aggression. Egypt has never really recovered from what the Arab world regards as a betrayal for signing a bilateral peace deal with Israel in the 1970s.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, can be seen addressing his supporters on a giant screen during a rally Monday in Beirut to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Credit: Reuters /Sharif Karim

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