Nasrallah appears in public, voices support for Assad

Rare public appearance on Shi'ite Ashura festival comes as Barak warns of arms transfers to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah seen in public (R) 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/ Issam Kobeisy)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah seen in public (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Issam Kobeisy)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made a rare appearance in public on Tuesday, in what was interpreted in Israel as part of Iran’s efforts to signal to the West that it would retaliate for a military strike on its nuclear facilities.
Nasrallah has spent the past five years since the Second Lebanon War underground, living in a series of hiding places and bunkers. He rarely appears in the open, and addresses his followers by video feeds. On Tuesday, Nasrallah appeared at a rally in south Beirut marking the Shi’ite festival of Ashura.
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Surrounded by armed bodyguards, he walked through the crowd and greeted tens of thousands of supporters from the podium before disappearing for a few minutes to deliver his speech via a giant screen.
Nasrallah reiterated his support for Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad and said that Hezbollah was continuing to build up its military capabilities.
“Every day we are growing in number, our training is getting better, we are becoming more confident and our weapons are increasing,” he said. “If anyone is betting that our weapons are rusting, we [say] no, we replace our rusting weapons.”
Defense officials said Nasrallah was extremely concerned with the possibility that Assad will fall and that Hezbollah will lose its main supplier of arms. Israel is concerned that Hezbollah is planning to move advanced weaponry it has been storing in Syria to Lebanon to prevent it from being captured by opposition groups that are fighting against Assad.
A few hours before Nasrallah’s public appearance, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the Golan Heights and said that Israel was taking precautions and tracking the transfer of arms from Syria to Lebanon.
On Sunday, the Syrian military test fired a Scud-B ballistic missile and other short range rockets. Syria is believed to have several hundred Scud missiles as well as a number of Scud-D models, the longest-range ballistic missile in its arsenal.
Barak said that the Syrian missile test on Sunday was conducted out of fear and that Assad’s regime would fall soon. He said that Assad’s fall would be a blow to the “radical alliance” between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and would likely weaken the Lebanese guerrilla group.
The IDF is concerned that Assad will attack Israel if he feels that the end of his regime is near, as a last-ditch effort to distract his opponents’ attention from his deadly crackdown.
“It is now quiet here, but a few days ago and just a few hundred kilometers northeast of here [in Syria] we saw the launching of various rockets,” Barak said on the sidelines of an exercise of the Golani Brigade which he attended together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
“It could be that the fire was meant to demonstrate capabilities and project confidence, but it was more likely done out of fear and distress.”
Reuters contributed to the report.