Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged for the first time this week that his movement receives financial and material support from Iran, but denied it takes operating instructions from the Islamic Republic.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah previously only confirmed Iranian political and moral backing because it did not want “to embarrass our brothers in Iran,” but had changed policy because Iran’s leadership had announced its support in public.

“Yes, we received moral and political and material support in all possible forms from the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1982,” Nasrallah told supporters by video-link Tuesday, in a speech marking the anniversary of the birth of Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

“In the past we used to tell half the story and stay silent on the other half... When they asked us about the material and financial and military support, we were silent,” he said.

Nasrallah said Iran had not issued orders to Hezbollah since the movement was founded 30 years ago, adding that if Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear sites, the leadership in Iran “would not ask anything of Hezbollah.” He said if that were to happen, Hezbollah’s own leadership would “sit down, think and decide what to do.”

Speculation has grown that Israel might be planning to attack Iranian nuclear facilities after strong public comments by Israeli leaders about Iran’s atomic ambitions. Many analysts believe that in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, Hezbollah – which fought a punishing 34-day war with Israel in 2006 – would attack the Jewish state.

James H. Anderson, an expert at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, said that in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran, Hezbollah would almost certainly launch a rocket barrage at its southern neighbor.

“The question would be to what extent – would Hezbollah fire its full load of rockets, or perhaps something less,” he told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Germany. “Hezbollah has not only rearmed from the 2006 war, but actually increased the amount of rockets at its disposal – I’ve seen estimates of up to 50,000 rockets of varying potential.

“I’m not convinced Hezbollah would necessarily unleash everything it has, and Israel has also made considerable improvements in missile defense,” added Anderson, a former director of Middle East policy in the office of the US secretary of defense.

Nasrallah’s statements will not surprise world powers, including the United States, which lists the group as a terrorist organization, and says it has military support from both Iran and Syria.

Nasrallah denied Washington’s charges that his movement was involved in money-laundering or drug-smuggling, saying Iran’s support meant the movement was not in need of cash.

Federal prosecutors in the US said in December three Lebanese financial institutions linked to Hezbollah laundered more than $240 million through the US used-car market.

US Drug Enforcement Administration officials have also said Hezbollah has become involved in the drug trade, facilitating distribution and sale of cocaine in West Africa.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not involved in money-laundering, nor in drug smuggling, which was religiously forbidden. “No drugs, no money-laundering and no trade at all,” he said of Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah was set up 30 years ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to fight Israeli forces that had invaded Lebanon to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This week Nasrallah also defended his support for close ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is trying to crush an 11-month uprising against his rule.

Nasrallah, who has praised the uprisings in other Arab countries, which toppled three entrenched leaders last year, said Assad still enjoyed support from the army and a large section of the population, and criticized Syria’s opposition for rejecting Assad’s promised reforms and offers of dialogue.

“They say we don’t want dialogue and we don’t want reform [because] it’s too late,” he said. “It’s too late when there is fighting in Syria and there are people pushing it to civil war? They are betting on the West, on America, on money and weapons to overthrow the regime, but this is a losing bet.”

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