Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Thursday his Iran-backed terror group would “annihilate and destroy” the Israeli military if the latter entered Lebanon in a future war.
“Israel wants a war? Let it go to war. The Israeli units and brigades that dare to enter southern Lebanon will be annihilated and destroyed on live television before the whole world,” he said, according to multiple media reports in Israel and Lebanon.
The taunts are typical of the Lebanese terror group leader, whose organization faced its last war with Israel in 2006.
In a speech on April 22, Nasrallah claimed Israel’s ground forces were unprepared for a ground offensive in Lebanon and the Jewish state could no longer win battles solely from the air.
“The Israelis say the home front is not ready. Any theoretical Israeli war needs a ground operation to achieve its desired goal. The era in which the air force decides the battle is over.”
His latest comments on Thursday were at an event commemorating three years since the death of Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah’s former military chief who, according to reports in Arab media and statements by the IDF chief at the time, was killed by his own men, possibly on orders from Iran and Nasrallah himself.
After issuing his threat to a purportedly war-hungry Israel on Thursday, Nasrallah then assured his audience that Israel did not, in fact, want war, since it was deterred by Hezbollah’s military prowess.
“Our ground combat capabilities are strong,” he said, “and Israel takes that into account. It’s scared of getting entangled in Gaza, even though Gaza is exposed on all sides, so would it dare to enter Lebanon?”
He also blamed Israel and the United States for the poverty afflicting the Middle East.
“Our entire region is subject to American and Israeli plots and hegemony; the poverty and unemployment are caused by them,” he was quoted as saying.
“All the oil and money flow to the US and Israel… They’re exploiting us,” he added.
Last month, the new head of the IDF’s Ground Forces Command said Hezbollah was still planning to carry out a surprise invasion of northern Israel, despite the recent Israeli operation to uncover and destroy an extensive network of cross-border attack tunnels dug by the militia.
Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, a former chief of the IDF’s Northern Command, was tapped to lead the Ground Forces Command in February amid increased criticism from some quarters in the Defense Ministry charging that Israeli troops were not prepared for war. His comments came less than four months after the IDF concluded its anti-tunnel operation along the Lebanese border.
“Hezbollah still has plans to invade the Galilee,” he told the Ynet news site in an interview. “Of course, we won’t allow that to happen. We will thwart these plans.”
Back in December, Israel accused Hezbollah of digging cross-border tunnels into its territory from southern Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy the tunnels.
According to the army, Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities.
The IDF did not give a total figure for the tunnels found, though it announced in January that six were destroyed during the course of the operation.
Strick also voiced support for declaring war on Lebanon as a whole in Israel’s next fight against Hezbollah.
“In the next war, it would be a mistake for us to distinguish between the state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, since Hezbollah is a political actor and part of the government,” Strick said.
In such a conflict, “if it were up to me, I would recommend declaring war on Lebanon and Hezbollah,” he said. “I have no doubt what the outcome will be… It will be a decisive victory.”
In March, recently retired army chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said that Israel had come close to all-out conflict with Hezbollah during his tenure.
Israel last fought a war with Hezbollah over a decade ago, but tensions along the northern border have remained high. Israel has carried out airstrikes in Syria for years to prevent weapons transfers through Syrian territory to the Iran-backed terror group.
“The Hezbollah threat is a serious threat,” Eisenkot told a conference. “It is a strong organization that has gained experience in running large operations and wants to prepare an attack plan to conquer the Galilee and bring 5,000 fighters underground” into Israel.
The threat of war with Hezbollah had increased during the last three years, he said.