Lebanon army chief vows to battle 'Israeli aggression' no matter the cost

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted his group could shut down Israeli offshore plants within hours.

By REUTERS
February 20, 2018 07:48
2 minute read.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrives with Army Commander General Joseph Aoun (L) at the Un

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrives with Army Commander General Joseph Aoun (L) at the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO)

 
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BEIRUT - Lebanon's army will use use every available means to confront any potential "Israeli aggression" no matter the cost, its commander said on Monday.

"I affirm again our categorical rejection of the Israeli enemy infringing on Lebanon's sovereignty and its sacred right to exploit all its economic resources," the Lebanese army quoted General Joseph Aoun as saying on Twitter. "The army will not spare any method available to confront any Israeli aggression, whatever that costs."

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US diplomats have mediated recently between the two countries after a surge in tensions over a border wall which Israel is building and over Lebanon's decision to explore for offshore energy near disputed waters.  

On Friday Hezbollah urged Lebanon to stand firm in its offshore energy dispute with Israel and warned it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary.

In a televised address, the leader of the heavily-armed, Iran-backed movement,  Hassan Nasrallah, described the issue as a "battle for all of Lebanon."

"If Lebanon's Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants...should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours," he told a rally.

The powerful Shi'ite Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's coalition government, which includes almost all the country's main political parties.

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Israel sees Hezbollah as the biggest security threat on its borders and the United States regards it as a terrorist group. But Washington also supports the Lebanese military, funding its forces partly as a counterweight to Hezbollah.

Nasrallah said Lebanese officials should not fear Israeli military might, but should warn U.S. officials of Hezbollah's own strength. He also said the United States was not an honest broker, and that Lebanese officials should not be fooled by their mediation.

"If the Americans come and say you must be responsive so that I restrain Israel from you, tell the Americans: they must accept (Lebanon's) demands so that we hold Hezbollah back from Israel," he said. "The oil wealth is for all the Lebanese."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was worried about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, calling it a "nightmare" scenario.

Guterres said the latest signals from Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah showed the will to not let this happen but "sometimes a spark is enough to unleash this kind of a conflict."

"I am deeply worried about hard-to-foresee escalations in the whole region," Gutters told reporters in his native Lisbon, also referring to Israel's concerns about various militia groups in Syria approaching its borders.

"The worst nightmare would be if there is a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah...the level of destruction in Lebanon would be absolutely devastating, so there are major points of concern around this situation."

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