(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday said that if Israel launches a new war against Hizbullah, the terror group should retaliate strongly enough to "close their case once and for all."
Ahmadinejad's comments, in a conversation with Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, were the latest in a heated exchange of rhetoric between Israel and Lebanon and Syria this month in which all sides have been warning the other not to start a war.
Speaking by phone, Ahmadinejad urged Nasrallah to prepare his fighters to be able to retaliate strongly against any Israeli attack.
"The preparations should be of the level that, if they (the Israelis) want to repeated the mistakes of the past (by attacking), then their case should be closed once and for all and the region delivered from their evil ways forever," the Iranian president said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
"The people of Iran will stand by the peoples of Lebanon and the region in this," he said.
Nasrallah dismissed any fears, saying Israeli "threats will lead to nothing."
Iran is a key supporter of Hizbullah, believed to funnel it weapons and millions of dollars in funding, though Teheran denies arming the Shi'ite group. Hizbullah, also closely allied to Syria, boasts a heavy arsenal of rockets capable of reaching deep inside Israel.
The past month has seen increased sabre-rattling between Israel and Syria, Hizbullah and Lebanon — though there's been little apparent cause on the ground for the warnings of new war.
In a speech aired nationally in Lebanon this week, Nasrallah vowed that if Israel attacks again, his fighters would retaliate in kind, striking Tel Aviv or Ben-Gurion Airport on the city's outskirts.
Lebanon's prime minister also warned of "escalating" Israeli war threats and vowed Lebanon would support Hizbullah in any conflict.
The prime minister, Saad Hariri, is a pro-US figure and longtime rival
of Hizbullah, but the group is now a member of his national unity
Earlier in the month, Syrian President Bashar Assad
accused Israel of avoiding peace, and its prime minister warned that if
war broke out, Israeli cities would be attacked. Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman replied
that if Damascus draws Israel into a war, its
army would be defeated and the Syrian regime would collapse.