BEIRUT – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that his Shi’ite organization was not seeking a new war with Israel, although continued armed resistance was the only option for Lebanon and other countries in the region.
“We are not looking for a war, but Israel is wrong to conclude that we will not enter a war because of our fighting in Syria.” Nasrallah told a rally of supporters via a television link from a secret location in South Lebanon. “The resistance today relative to that in June 2006 (the Second Lebanon War), is stronger economically, it has more manpower and greater skill, and it has higher morale.
He also called for domestic support for his group after a year of sectarian violence in Lebanon following Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian war.
“Some in Lebanon say the resistance [Hezbollah] has nothing to do with Syria,” Nasrallah said. He justified sending his forces to a foreign war by saying that Sunni rebel groups would “eliminate everyone in Lebanon” if they won in Syria.
“The problem in Lebanon is not that Hezbollah went to Syria, but that we were late in doing so,” he said. “This resistance will remain solid, with its head hung high, protecting its people and its nation.”
Established nearly 30 years ago to confront Israel’s invasion of south Lebanon, Hezbollah won praise from Sunnis and Shi’ites across the Middle East. But its fight alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lost it domestic and international support.
Shi’ite Hezbollah fighters helped Syrian President Bashar Assad in the struggle against rebels. Assad now has a firm hold on much of central Syria around the capital and the Syrian-Lebanese border.
The three-year-old conflict in Syria has fueled Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Lebanon and across the Arab world.
Syria’s rebels are mostly Sunnis, while Assad belongs to the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
Syrian rebel groups and Lebanese supporters have carried out suicide bombings in Hezbollah-controlled areas in Beirut and elsewhere, killing dozens of people. They vowed to attack Hezbollah until it withdraws from Syria.
Nasrallah said he sent “tens of Hezbollah” fighters to Syria to protect a Shi’ite shrine and “avoid larger sectarian strife.” Since then, the number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria increased, but exact figures are not known.
Hezbollah and Assad share the same patron, Iran, which has supported the Syrian leader throughout the revolt.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is reorganizing its media strategy over Syria’s war after battle secrets and tactics were leaked by some of its fighters, a source close to the party told The Daily Star in Beirut on Friday.
The party will rework its media coverage by re-emphasizing secrecy with respect to its battles in the neighboring country, primarily by urging fighters not to divulge developments through photos or video footage taken on the ground.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV network is one of the few media outlets embedded with Syrian military and Hezbollah fighters in their battles against rebels. But for the past two days it has stopped broadcasting live reports from the battlefield.
The proliferation of photos and videos on and Twitter showing Hezbollah gunmen fighting Syrian rebels began with the battle of Qusair, a town close to the Lebanese border where Hezbollah won a decisive victory by driving out opposition fighters last spring.
The source said that the media presence was required at the time to wage psychological warfare, in addition to the physical battle.
After the fall of the Syrian city of Yabroud earlier this month at the hands of the Syrian Army, backed by Hezbollah, numerous videos posted on YouTube emerged of the battle, in which Hezbollah gunmen could be seen in fierce battles with rebels.
The footage clearly showed the faces of fighters, breaching the secrecy that has shrouded the identity of Hezbollah personnel, whose identities are revealed only after their death.
Some photos emerged on social media showing Hezbollah fighters stepping on the bodies of dead Syrian rebels. In one video, Hezbollah fighters ask a wounded opposition militant where the dead bodies of their comrades are located.
According to the source, Hezbollah is stressing a return to its covert ways, a pillar that has characterized its resistance operations against Israel in the past three decades.
Another source close to the party said that Hezbollah’s leadership is even considering preventing Hezbollah fighters in from carrying mobile phones, to avoid the emergence of photos or videos online.
Yabroud was the last Syrian town granting Syrian rebels access into east and is believed to have been the place where cars intended for terrorist attacks in Lebanese areas associated with Hezbollah were rigged with explosives.
In May 2013, Hezbollah’s secretary- general confirmed that his party intervened in Syria to prevent it from falling into the hands of takfiri groups, a reference to radical rebels. He added that these groups posed a grave threat to Lebanon and the resistance. Nasrallah said party fighters would be deployed wherever they were needed in Syria.
MCT and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.