The Lebanese president on Monday defended the Hezbollah terror organization, saying his country had been subject to Israeli “aggression” for decades and had the right to protect itself.
“Lebanon was able to face the Israeli aggression since 1978 until the 2006 war. It was able to liberate its land. Israeli threats are still ongoing; the Lebanese have the right to fight and thwart it with all available means,” Michel Aoun said.
His comments followed a harsh statement by Arab League foreign ministers condemning Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, which it accused of terrorism and of supporting “terrorist groups” across the region.
At the same time, Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, said Lebanon rejected any accusation that its government “is a partner in terrorist attacks.”
“Lebanon cannot tolerate a suggestion that the Lebanese government is a partner in terrorist acts. Lebanon’s stance declared through its representative at the Arab League yesterday expressed a national will,” he said, according to the Lebanese news website Naharnet. “Lebanon is not responsible for the Arab and regional conflicts that some Arab states are witnessing. Lebanon did not carry out any aggression against anyone and it should not pay the price of these conflicts.”
Hezbollah, the only Lebanese group to retain its arms after the 1975-1990 civil war, was a key factor in Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and continues to portray itself as Lebanon’s first line of defense. Hezbollah is also a member of Lebanon’s coalition government.
Iran also rejected the Arab League statement, saying the tirade was “full of lies” and the product of Saudi “pressure and propaganda.”
State media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as calling on Saudi Arabia to stop its “barbaric attacks” on Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been at war with Tehran-backed rebels since March 2015. He also called on Saudi Arabia to drop its boycott of the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar, which has warm ties with Iran.
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday lashed out at Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which it referred to as a terrorist organization, accusing them of destabilizing the region and vowing to take the matter to the UN Security Council.
Tensions spiked between Saudi Arabia and Iran after the Yemen rebels, known as Houthis, fired a ballistic missile that was intercepted outside Riyadh earlier this month. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran and Hezbollah of arming the rebels, charges denied by both.
They have also ramped up over the surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on November 4, during a trip to Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah had been a member of Hariri’s government.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran have long vied for regional supremacy, and support rival proxies across the Middle East.