Hezbollah warns Israel against maritime border 'threats'

Nasrallah's deputy: Lebanon “will remain vigilant in order to regain its full rights"; Pipes: Situation must be viewed in light of Syrian unrest.

July 14, 2011 13:12
3 minute read.
Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem

Sheikh Naim Qassem 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Hezbollah issued a stark warning to Jerusalem on Wednesday, vowing to protect Lebanon’s maritime sovereignty in the face of “Israeli threats.”

Lebanon “will remain vigilant in order to regain its full rights, whatever it takes,” the Lebanese news website Naharnet quoted Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem as saying.

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The comments came in response to Israeli plans to mark the two countries’ maritime border to ensure unrestricted access to lucrative natural gas reserves.

“Hezbollah supports the national position to defend the country’s maritime rights and the government’s demarcation of a maritime border,” Qassem said in a speech. “The Israeli threats don’t frighten us. We will not change our position and [will] continue to maintain our rights. Israel knows its threats fall on deaf ears in Lebanon, after it tasted the bitter taste of the powerful Lebanese resistance.”

Daniel Pipes, president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum think tank, described the denunciations as “comical.”

“I don’t take it very seriously,” he said. “What I do take seriously is the Turkish involvement. The Turks are making noises that they don’t like the Cypriot agreement with Israel, and that I think could be a sign of troubles to come. The Turks themselves can’t make claims on this side of the Mediterranean, but through Cyprus they can. I think the Hezbollah claims are a bit comical, but the Turkish ones are more serious.”

Two major natural gas fields have been discovered in recent years off the Israeli coast. In December, Israel reached an agreement with Cyprus marking the two countries’ sea borders.

That agreement came after Cyprus came to a similar understanding four years ago with Lebanon, though that pact has yet to be approved in the Lebanese parliament.

Earlier this week, the cabinet in Jerusalem approved its border map for submission to the UN, but Lebanese officials say the map conflicts sharply with the map they had already presented to the world body.

On Tuesday, former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri unleashed an unprecedented verbal attack against Hezbollah, saying the indictments issued by the UN Special Tribunal on the assassination of his father, former premier Rafik Hariri, would never be changed. Four Hezbollah operatives are charged in the elder Hariri’s 2005 death.

“If Nasrallah comes out in 300 press conferences, he will not change the content of the indictments,” Saad Hariri said.

“Their people stand accused, and they must be put on trial.”

Hariri also slammed the group for its vast weapons stores, which he said lie at the the core of Lebanon’s continued instability.

“Its weapons are the cause of the problem in Lebanon. Hezbollah does not know what to do with its arms. It is our problem with Hezbollah and also it is a problem for Hezbollah,” he told a local television channel.

Pipes said Lebanon must be viewed in connection with the popular protests destabilizing neighboring Syria for the past four months. “Should the Bashar Assad regime hold out and prevail, Hezbollah will presumably continue to strengthen.

But that’s the question – Hezbollah’s very future is connected to the Assad regime,” Pipes said by telephone from Philadelphia.

Were the Syrian president to be toppled, he said, “Hezbollah would lose its patron and have to be more careful. I don’t think we can talk about Lebanon on its own now – we have to wait and see what the denouement in Syria is.

“I’m inclined to think the regime is in major trouble,” he added. “Things are pretty bleak for the Assad family – I wouldn’t count them out yet, but I wouldn’t bet on them.

“This week’s attacks on the US and French embassies [in Damascus] – what were they thinking?” Pipes asked. “I’ve always seen Bashar as a rookie. He’s just not good at this. He’s an unsteady captain at the helm. That’s crucial in my pessimism for the regime.”

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