Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday repeated his denial that his Lebanese-based militant group sent the drone that Israel shot down near Haifa last week, instead positing that the UAV was a false flag from Israel to create a casus belli.
Speaking to the group’s al-Manar TV station, Nasrallah said that the “accusations are an honor that we cannot presume to accept.”
He added that it was equally unrealistic to think “that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon launched the drone.”
Nasrallah also suggested the possibility that Israel launched the UAV itself, in order to frame Hezbollah. “Everybody knows that this organization has the courage to take responsibility for every action it performs, especially if it hurts Israel,” he said.
IDF fighter jets shot down the unmanned aircraft off the coast of Haifa on Thursday. According to a military source, the aircraft took off from Lebanon, where it was tracked by Israel, and was apparently sent by Hezbollah.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon accused the Iranians of using Hezbollah to test Israel. “We’ll respond where we find fit, but there will be a response,” he said on Thursday.
In October 2012, Hezbollah did take “credit” for a drone that Israel shot down in the northern Negev. Then, Nasrallah confirmed that the drone was manufactured by Iran.
Hezbollah has flown drones into Israeli airspace a few times in the past, including two during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Nasrallah, a staunch ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, hinted that his group would intervene to keep Damascus from falling to opposition forces.
“Syria has real friends in the region and in the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel or the Takfiris,” he said, referring to followers of an al-Qaeda-like extremist ideology.
Nasrallah said Tuesday that there are now no Iranian forces in Syria, except for some experts who, he said, have been in Syria for decades. But he added: “What do you imagine would happen in the future if things deteriorate in a way that requires the intervention of the forces of resistance in this battle?”
He further hinted that, in the future, Hezbollah could enter the conflict “to protect the Lebanese citizens who live along the Syrian border.” Hezbollah gunmen are widely reported to have been involved in the fighting on Assad’s side.
Nasrallah also said his fighters had a duty to protect the holy Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab, south of Damascus, named after the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
He said rebels were able to capture several villages around the shrine, and that gunmen who have threatened to destroy it were deployed hundreds of meters away from the shrine.
“If the shrine is destroyed, things will get out of control,” Nasrallah said, citing the 2006 bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra. That attack was blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq and set off years of retaliatory bloodshed between Sunni and Shiite extremists, which left thousands of Iraqis dead and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
Nasrallah also said that accusations that the regime has used chemical weapons were an attempt to justify foreign intervention in Syria.
Adiv Sterman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.