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The deputy chief of Hizbullah warned Tuesday that any "military adventure" by the United States and Israel against Iran would have dangerous consequences across the Middle East.
Sheik Naim Kassem suggested his pro-Iranian group would not get involved if the US attacks Iran, but he raised the possibility that Israel might attack Lebanon as part of any assault on Iran - in which case, he said, Hizbullah would "definitely" respond.
He said Hizbullah guerrillas were making contingency plans in case Israel, like last summer, attacks Lebanon again.
"The resistance is taking all the necessary measures to be ready and prepared," Kassem said in an interview with the Associated Press. He would not elaborate but said Hizbullah is constantly changing its fighting tactics so the Israelis would not know its capabilities.
"We've evaluated the experience of the war and learned lessons from it and are taking steps to accommodate them with new realities," he said. "We are making sure the enemy will be in the dark in the future. This is the strength of the resistance and the secret of its success."
"It doesn't mean that we expect a war or an aggression this year," he said. "But it doesn't mean it could not happen in the near or medium future. We cannot see the complete picture now."
The United States insists it is not planning to attack Iran and is trying to persuade Teheran to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by the United Nations. But fear of a strike is growing throughout the Middle East.
Kassem, a Shi'ite Muslim cleric, warned that an assault on Iran could expand across the region.
"It remains to be seen what the level of an American aggression on Iran would be," he said. "Is it going to be limited or an all-out war? Will other countries become involved? Will it spread to the entire region? ... Will they expand their aggression to other areas, including perhaps Lebanon?"
Asked if the US attacked Iran, Hizbullah would retaliate by striking Israel, Kassem said Iran is capable of defending itself because it "possesses the means, a tenacious populace and a wise leadership."
Iran has threatened to attack the hundreds of thousands of US forces based in the Persian Gulf and in Iraq if America launches an attack.
Kassem warned, "we will definitely respond and defend ourselves" if Israel attacks Lebanon. "Israel could instead attack Iran and then drag Lebanon into the conflict by carrying out a preventive strike on it to cover its back," he said, speculating that Israel - which has been a strong proponent of an American attack on Iran - might carry out a limited strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Kassem's comments aimed to counter speculation that Hizbullah may stir up trouble in the region - including attacking Israel - if Iran is attacked.
"In general the region is on fire because of American and Israeli aggressions. They have to know that any military adventure, if widened and involves several countries in the region, would have dangerous consequences for everyone," said Kassem, who is the deputy of Hizbullah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah has been locked in a power-struggle for months with the US-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. The Shi'ite group and its allies are demanding a new government in which they would have greater power. Washington has dramatically beefed up support for Saniora, who has rejected the opposition's demands.
Kassem blamed the United States for the deadlock, saying it is pressuring Saniora to refuse a compromise. Washington's goal is to undermine Hizbullah's resistance against Israel, he said.
"But we believe Lebanon's independence is only achieved by the resistance," said Kassem.
He dismissed Lebanese and American government charges that Hizbullah was a tool of Iran and Syria. Damascus and Teheran benefit from Hizbullah's role in anti-Israel resistance, but they "are not directing the resistance," Kassem said. In contrast "the (Saniora) government is directly dictated by the Americans," he said.
In the interview, Kassem reiterated Hizbullah's refusal to disarm but said that his group adhered to the UN cease-fire resolution, which bars any military presence south of the Litani River except for the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers.
"Lebanon remains in the danger circle and Israel still represents the enemy which has ambitions in Lebanon," he said. "So it's only natural for the resistance to be on alert and ready for any emergency."