In a speech marking one week since the assassination of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah thanked Iran and Soleimani for helping rebuild Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War against Israel in 2006.
The Hezbollah leader stressed that Soleimani helped Hezbollah during the Israeli withdrawal from the south of the country and came to Beirut during the Second Lebanon War. When warned about the risks of being in the war zone, Soleimani told Nasrallah “I either live with you or die with you,” according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar news.
Soleimani pushed Hezbollah to develop their missile capabilities, telling them “You do not have the luxury of time!” Nasrallah added that Soleimani helped Hezbollah become a “strategic threat” to Israel, according to the Lebanese National News Agency.
The former Quds Force commander returned to Tehran after the war and arranged aid to help build houses for those who lost their houses during the war.
Nasrallah stressed that Iran treated Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups as allies, not tools.
The Hezbollah leader called ISIS an “American creation, supported by some Gulf countries with money, arms, media coverage and sectarian incitement.” Soleimani worked to fight ISIS, according to Nasrallah.
Nasrallah claimed that the IRGC missile attack on US bases in Iraq last week was “only a slap” and not the revenge for the assassination, calling it a “first, strong, and earth-shattering step” that will lead to the withdrawal of the US from the region. The statements echoed earlier statements made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that also called the attack a “slap.”
“The response to the American crime is not a single operation, but rather a long path that must lead to removing America from our region,” said Nasrallah. “The days will reveal that after the assassination of Soleimani the world will be different. It is the beginning of a new history in our region.”
The Hezbollah leader added that the missile attack was a message that all US bases in the region are a target and warned that Americans need to withdraw from Iraq immediately, or they will leave in coffins instead.
Nasrallah said last week that Iran's allies, which include the Syrian government and numerous paramilitary groups set up with Iranian support in Iraq and Syria, should help exact revenge for Soleimani's killing.
"I believe it is time for the axis of resistance to start working," he said in his speech on Sunday.
"The resistance forces are serious and aiming for the big goal that I proposed," Nasrallah said, referring to the objective of seeing US forces leave the region.
Retaliation would happen in the "coming days, weeks and months," he said, adding "this is a long path."
On Thursday, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC's Aerospace Force, warned that the Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq on Tuesday night was just the beginning of a major operation named "Operation Martyr Soleimani" that would "continue throughout the region," according to the Iranian Fars news.
On Wednesday, Qais Khazali, the head of the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq militia, tweeted that it was now Iraq's turn to respond the assassination of Popular Mobilization Forces commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. "Iraqis are brave and their response will not be less than that of Iran – that is a promise," wrote Khazali, according to the Iranian Mehr news.
US Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News that even if further attacks are carried out by Iran-backed militias, not Iran itself, the US will still respond, as evidenced by the fact that the rocket attacks that killed an American contractor and led to the decision to assassinate Soleimani were carried out by a militia, not Iranian forces.
A spokesman for the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Abolfazi Shekarchi stated on Thursday that "Iran will take revenge on the US beyond the military operations," echoing remarks by Khamenei issued soon after the Iranian missile attack on US bases in Iraq on Tuesday night, saying that "military actions are not enough."
"The matter of revenge is another thing," said Khamenei in reference to the missile attack, according to his official website. "They were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough in countering them. The corruptive presence of the US in the West Asian region must be stopped."
Khamenei stressed that the enemies are the US, Israel and a number of companies and individuals he called the "System of Arrogance."
IRGC commander Sayyid Yahya "Rahim" Safavi blamed the assassination on the Mossad and the CIA, according to Tasnim news.
Nasrallah pointed to the massive funeral processions for Soleimani and Muhandis, saying that this shows that the threatened revenge attacks are the decision of the people at large, not just the leaders.
Anti-government protests have swept Iran in recent days in the aftermath of the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane during the IRGC missile attack on US bases in Iraq. Protesters have avoided trampling American and Israeli flags and chanted “Our enemy is in Iran, not America.”Reuters contributed to this report.