HEZBOLLAH LEADER Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters via a video link in Beirut, February 16, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah checked off all the boxes for harsh anti-Israel rhetoric during his speech, but his aim was to rally Shi’ite support behind him and even try to improve his group’s drab image in the Sunni Arab world.
He sought to embarrass Sunni Arab states by tying them to Israel because of their common goal in opposing Iran’s aggressive goals in the region.
And to hammer home the point that Hezbollah is the one standing up to Israel, not the Sunni Arabs, Nasrallah threatened on Tuesday night to hit large ammonia gas storage tanks in Haifa that he said would wreak damage and casualties equal to a nuclear attack.
“Do you accept a friend occupying Sunni land in Palestine? Can you become friends with an entity that has committed the most horrible massacres against the Sunni community? “You are free to consider Iran an enemy, but how can you consider Israel a friend and an ally? This issue must be confronted in a serious manner,” he said.
“This would be exactly like a nuclear bomb, and we can say that Lebanon today has a nuclear bomb, seeing as any rocket that might hit these tanks is capable of creating a nuclear bomb effect,” he said.
Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay later said he had ordered the ammonia storage facility
to be moved to the Negev.
Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post that Nasrallah wants “to shame the Sunnis and to mobilize the Shi’a base in solidifying the equation in their mind between Sunnis and Israel.
“This has become standard fare in Hezbollah rhetoric,” he said. “But I’m not sure the implicit choice he presented the Sunnis with – either an accommodation with Israel or acquiescence to Iranian hegemony – is something that works for him,” said Badran.
“And it’s not only because Turkey and Israel are in reconciliation talks, or that the Saudis clearly view Iran, and not Israel, as the major threat to them,” he added.
“It is also because Nasrallah has managed to make the small Shi’a community of Lebanon the blood enemies of their only two neighbors – the Syrian Sunnis and the Israelis – setting it on a perpetual war footing with both of them.”
Hezbollah is the most significantly powerful terrorist organization in Israel’s region, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told high school students in Bat Yam on Wednesday.
The IDF has succeeded in enforcing its deterrence against it, and in the past years “the Lebanese front has been a quiet front,” Eisenkot added.
Nasrallah has over the years built up a rocket capability that can reach the population of central Israel, the chief of staff added, describing Hezbollah as the principal enemy that the IDF trains against.
Nasrallah said that Hezbollah’s military might is preventing attacks by Israel, and Israel would not attack unless it knew it could win and in a short amount of time. He also accused Israel of planning to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying those plans have failed.
The Hezbollah leader also attacked Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which he said favored a prolonged war in Syria rather than agreeing to a settlement that would lead to Assad staying in power.
He said the talk that the two countries, which support insurgents fighting to topple Assad, were planning to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State was a pretext for them “to gain a foothold” there.
“The armed groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey did not deliver, so the motive is not fighting Daesh but to look for a foothold after all these disappointments that occurred so far,” he said.
“They want to come to find a foothold in the face of the other axis,” Nasrallah told supporters via a video link in a speech during the anniversary to commemorate the group’s late leaders.
“They are willing to take the region to a regional war or global war but not willing or ready to accept a real political and national settlement in Syria, see the level of hatred and malice,” he told supporters.Zack Pyzer, Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.