Lebanese officials silent on Cairo's arrest of Hizbullah cell

Nasrallah denies organization planning to attack Egypt or destabilize country.

jumblatt 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
jumblatt 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Most Lebanese officials have kept relatively quiet regarding the recent capture of a cell of 49 men in Egypt with links to Hizbullah. According to Egyptian authorities, the men were planning attacks aimed at destabilizing the country. Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt, a Druse leader of the Democratic Gathering party and a frequent critic of Hizbullah, did say it was a mistake for Nasrallah to admit one of the men arrested was a member of the Islamist group. "The party has nothing to gain by entering into conflict with Arab regimes," Jumblatt said in an interview with Al-Jadid TV on Sunday, according to Lebanese press reports. Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah had admitted that one of the arrested men, Sami Shehab, was a member of the terrorist organization. He also said Shehab was involved in weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip with nearly 10 other people. However, Nasrallah denied claims Hizbullah was planning to attack Egypt or destabilize the country. Another Lebanese parliament member told The Jerusalem Post he did not yet have enough information to comment on the incident. "We are waiting for more details before saying anything," he said. The accusations are seen as part of the ongoing war between Sunni Egypt and Iranian-backed Shi'ite Hizbullah, which reached new depths during Israel's three week military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. "It's not marginal [in Lebanon] but it's taken for granted that there are two fronts in the region, one led by Iran and one led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt," said Lebanon expert Nadim Shehadi of the London-based Chatham House. "It's not new. It's just an escalation. It's like an Arab cold war." US-backed countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are particularly concerned with Iran's growing influence in the region and have accused the country of trying to export its Shi'ite ideology. Many in Lebanon see Egypt's accusations as retaliation for Nasrallah's fiery call to the Egyptian people to open up the Rafah-Gaza border crossing with their own hands, and to its armed forces to revolt during Operation Cast Lead. But the latest battle between Egypt and Hizbullah is not expected to influence Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections, which is shaping up to be a very tight race. "The folks who will vote for Hizbullah will vote for them regardless of whether there's a spat with Egypt," said one Beirut-based Western observer. In general, "Egypt is not regarded in a favorable light because of its role during the war in Gaza, which many Lebanese criticize," he told the Post. "There were demonstrations in front of the Egyptian Embassy during the war." Egyptian officials say they will not open the Sinai-Gaza crossing without the presence of the Palestinian Authority there, as per a 2005 agreement. Those who support Hizbullah will say Egypt is fabricating the accusations, while those who strongly oppose Hizbullah will use the accusations as further proof that it is a terrorist organization, the observer said. Any Hizbullah operation would certainly be carried out in coordination with Iran and the current operation in Egypt "is more likely to be an Iranian-originated plan and some of the Hizbullah guys are helping carry it out," he said.