Hizbullah: 'We're prepared but won't start a war'

Guerrilla group's deputy leader Naim Kassem says Israel will pay a "high price" in any future conflict.

Kassem 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassem 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hizbullah is prepared for a new war with Israel but it will not start one, its deputy leader said in remarks published Wednesday. Naim Kassem, however, warned that Israel will pay "a high price" in any future war. His comments, published in a Beirut daily close to Hizbullah, followed last month's threat by Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to retaliate with an "open war" against Israel for the assassination of terror chief Imad Mughniyeh. Mughniyeh was killed Feb. 12 in a car bomb in Damascus, capital of neighboring Syria. Hizbullah and Iran, its main backer, blamed his assassination on Israel, which denied any role. Asked if there will be war, Kassem said: "Hizbullah cannot confirm because it does not want to initiate it." He added: "The Israelis know they have to pay a high price in any war." Kassem also told Al-Akhbar daily that Hizbullah "is well-prepared to face an Israeli, American and international war." He was apparently referring to the recent deployment of US warships off Lebanon's Mediterranean coast, a move the US has said was aimed at protecting its interesting in the region. Asked if the deployment of peacekeepers and Lebanese troops will have an effect on Hizbullah's activity, Kassem said the group "was able to adapt to the new reality and has fully rebuilt its force and it is completely ready. This new situation made it (Hizbullah) create new methods." After the Second Lebanon War, a 13,500-strong UN force, together with 15,000 Lebanese troops, were deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border to monitor a UN cease-fire. Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in a report that Israel says Hizbullah is rearming and has an arsenal including 10,000 long-range rockets and 20,000 short-range rockets in southern Lebanon. While Ban's report did not confirm Israel's claim, the UN chief reiterated his concern about Hizbullah's public statements and persistent reports pointing to breaches of a UN arms embargo, which bans weapons transfers to the Shi'ite group. Ban also expressed concern over Nasrallah's "threats of open war against Israel." In a statement released late Tuesday, Hizbullah criticized Ban's report, saying it lacked objectivity. Hizbullah said that when Nasrallah spoke of "open war" he also spoke of Hizbullah's "right of self-defense legitimized ... by international laws." The statement said Hizbullah seeks stability but said the situation should be looked at "fairly" without adopting the view of one side, which it said is "not true."