Following a series of bellicose Syria-Israel exchanges in the past week, Lebanon entered the fray Wednesday, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri saying his government would support Hizbullah if a new confrontation breaks out with Israel.
“We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out,” Hariri said in an interview posted on the BBC’s Web site Wednesday. “Every day we have Israeli warplanes entering Lebanese airspace. This is something that is escalating, and this is something that is really dangerous.”
Hariri said Lebanon would unite if there was a fresh conflict with Israel.
“I think they’re [Israel] betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us,” Hariri said. “There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel. We will stand with our own people.”
Hariri’s comments come in the context of improved relations between his Western-backed coalition and the Iranian-backed Hizbullah since the two sides were forced to coexist in a fragile national unity government formed in November. The cabinet includes two Hizbullah ministers.
Israel, meanwhile, has been saying for months that as long as Hizbullah is in the Lebanese government, Jerusalem would hold Lebanon responsible for any Hizbullah attacks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev echoed these comments on Wednesday, saying Netanyahu has said “more than once that now that Hizbullah is part of the Lebanese government, and they have been given official backing as if it were the official army of the Lebanese state, in such a situation any attack via Hizbullah against Israel or Israelis will be seen as an attack as well by Lebanon.”
The significance of comments such as these is that Israel would view Lebanese infrastructure as fair game in the event of another war with Hizbullah, something that was not the case during the Second Lebanon War, when Israel did not attack strategic Lebanese infrastructure targets.
Regev added that the Lebanese government has “unfortunately abrogated its responsibility regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which clearly calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah and the preventing of arms transfers to Hizbullah. This is a black and white violation. I think this is crystal clear to members of the international community.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman brushed aside Hariri’s warning, telling Army Radio Wednesday that the Lebanese prime minister was “simply a hostage of Hizbullah, which has veto power in his Cabinet.”
Hariri’s coalition narrowly defeated a Hizbullah-led coalition in parliamentary elections last year, enabling it to retain a slim majority in the 128-member legislature.
Hariri, however, was unable to form a government without Hizbullah and its allies, fearing a repeat of the sectarian violence seen in 2008, when Hizbullah militants swept through Sunni neighborhoods of Beirut after the government moved to curb the group’s military communications network.
Hariri said Hizbullah would be included in the government whether Israel liked it or not. Like previous governments, the prime minister’s government endorsed Hizbullah’s right to keep its weapons and has been loath to take any strong action against the group for fear of sparking a crisis.
Asked whether there might be a new war involving Lebanon and Syria, Lieberman said: “I very much hope not.” “We have no interest in heating up the fronts with any of our neighbors. At the same time, we won’t be a punching bag. And we won’t shrug off vitriol that’s directed at Israel,” he said.
Lebanon’s president warned Israel Tuesday that a war against Lebanon would be “no picnic.”
Last week, Syria’s Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem accused Israel of “spreading an atmosphere of war,” and hinted that Syria would not sit to the side in the event of another Hizbullah-Israel confrontation.”
Muallem warned Israelis that “a war at this time will be transferred to your cities.”
Lieberman countered, saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad should
know that in a future war he would not only lose the war, but also
control of his country.