BEIRUT, Lebanon — The leader of the Hezbollah terror group on Friday derisively mocked Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon a week earlier, claiming that fighter jets only managed to strike banana fields and not Hamas or Hezbollah targets in retaliation for a volley of rockets on northern Israel.
The hour-long address by Hassan Nasrallah came after border tensions that had appeared to fade briefly flared again Friday, as IDF troops fired tear gas at several dozen Hezbollah supporters who gathered on the tense frontier between the countries and hurled stones at the Israeli side.
Speaking at a ceremony in Beirut marking “Quds Day,” or Jerusalem Day — an annual show of support for the Palestinians held on the last Friday of every Islamic holy month of Ramadan — Nasrallah called Israeli statements regarding retaliatory strikes “a barefaced lie” and that “no Hezbollah or Hamas infrastructure was struck.”
Israel merely hit some “banana groves” and a water irrigation channel, he claimed.
The IDF said last week that its counter-strikes had targeted “terrorist infrastructures belonging to Hamas” in the southern part of the country where Hamas has a strong presence in Palestinian refugee camps.
The strikes came a day after Israel said Hamas fighters in Lebanon fired nearly three dozen rockets from there at Israel, wounding two people and causing some property damage.
According to Associated Press reporters on the ground, several missiles fired by Israeli warplanes struck an open field in the town of Qalili, near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh, close to the coastal southern city of Tyre.
Others struck a bridge and power transformer in the nearby town of Maaliya and a farm on the outskirts of Rashidiyeh, killing several sheep. No human deaths were reported.
It could not be independently verified if any other locations were hit.
Reports in Hebrew-language media following the strikes indicated that military officials had advised against hitting Hezbollah and risking drawing it into a wider conflict.
“We didn’t attack just in the air, and not just Hezbollah targets, but other targets,” Netanyahu stated Thursday. “We attacked in many different ways, and not everything was visible.”
Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah’s deterrence efforts against Israel had proven themselves.
“Netanyahu can lie to his people,” Nasrallah said. “That’s his business [to do so]. He clearly lied to them. He knows, his ministers know, the army knows and all Israelis know — what he claimed simply did not happen in southern Lebanon. He had to lie.”
“He admitted that Israeli deterrence has deteriorated in all arenas and promised to improve Israeli deterrence, but he asked for more time to do so. But I say that he needs a lot of time, not that he’ll ever succeed,” Nasrallah quipped.
In response, a statement to Israeli media was issued in the name of a “senior diplomatic official” in Jerusalem who said the speech was “more fake news from Nasrallah’s bunker.” Jerusalem has long mocked Nasrallah for hiding out in a bunker amid fears that he’ll be assassinated by Israel.
Pointing to the rocket fire from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza following the Israeli police raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Nasrallah indicated that any Israeli attack against Palestinians would be met with a response from multiple fronts.
He said that his message to Palestinians on Jerusalem day is: “You are not alone. The message to the enemy is that Jerusalem and Palestine will not be forgotten. Today, on Jerusalem Day, the axis of the resistance is united, strong and calm, and the Israeli enemy is in a state of alert, fear and worry.”
Shortly after he spoke, a group of Lebanese protesters gathered on the border with Israel for a motorcycle rally to mark Al-Quds Day, hurling stones at a military post, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Israeli troops launched tear gas and stun grenades in response. A reporter for the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Al-Manar news outlet said one person was lightly hurt.
A spokesperson for the IDF said dozens of protesters had hurled stones at troops near a military post. No soldiers were hurt in the incident.
“IDF forces used riot dispersal means and the gathering was dispersed after a short while,” the spokesperson said.
Deputy UN Interim Force in Lebanon spokesperson Kandice Ardiel said some 50 to 60 protesters had thrown stones and stuck a Hezbollah flag on a fence marking the border.
Israeli forces “responded with stun and smoke grenades”, she said, adding that Lebanese troops soon arrived and worked with UNIFIL to calm the situation.
“Especially at this sensitive time, we strongly urge everyone to refrain from any acts that could be perceived as provocative and could cause the situation to escalate,” Ardiel said.
Should Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups opposed to Israel’s existence open a multifront conflict, it could test Israel, which has long sought to isolate the various arenas and only respond in countries from which a particular attack emanated.
“The enemy plays in several arenas, thinking that each arena has its own rules of engagement. The enemy separates the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and Al-Aqsa and says it is not interested in a broader conflict. [But this is because] he is very afraid of war,” Nasrallah explained.
“We say to the enemy that this is a dangerous game. You cannot forever control all sides of this game — not in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, not in the West Bank, not in Gaza, not in southern Lebanon and not in Syria,” he added.
Nasrallah even claimed that Israel is “too weak and cowardly” to strike nuclear facilities in Iran.
He said that while Hezbollah did not respond to the Israeli strikes, the terror group has adopted a “policy of ambiguity” that will keep Israel on its toes, wondering when the Lebanese group will hit back.
It appeared to indicate a departure from long-held policy under which Hezbollah would immediately respond to any Israeli strike on Lebanese territory.
Nasrallah also noted that the IDF sought to differentiate between Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon, insisting that it only struck the latter given that the Gaza-based group was responsible. Most security analysts have stated, however, that any strike from Lebanese territory would require Hezbollah’s tacit approval, at the very least.
The Hezbollah chief called the IDF framing of the Lebanon border escalation a “major achievement” for his organization.
Nasrallah also dismissed Netanyahu’s false claim that the previous government signed a maritime agreement with Hezbollah. “He lied and said [then-prime minister Yair] Lapid signed an agreement with Hezbollah, but everyone knows — both in Lebanon and around the world — that the [Israeli] government did not sign an agreement with Hezbollah but with the government of Lebanon.”
Amid speculation that Israel will try and assassinate Palestinian officials in Lebanon, Nasrallah warned that such operations would be met with an “appropriate” response.”
The Hezbollah chief also warned Israel against continuing its airstrikes in Syria against Iran militias and weapons shipments. Nasrallah said Israel is wrong to assume that Syria is too busy with its own civil war to respond to IDF strikes, pointing to surveillance drone launches from Syria that were shot down this month by the IDF over the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.
Despite all of his threats, Nasrallah insisted that he does not intend to go to war with Israel.
“It is clear that Lebanon does not want to go to war, neither does Gaza nor the West Bank,” he noted. “But the actions of the enemy and his stupidity and crimes may lead the region to war.”
Nasrallah boasted that US influence in the region is also in decline, pointing to the Biden administration’s marred withdrawal from Afghanistan
“The US is running away from responsibility just like Netanyahu who runs away from responsibility and throws it on Lapid. In the US, they throw responsibility on [former US president Donald] Trump.”
He also highlighted the recent China-brokered normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which “at the very least will slow Israel’s normalization [efforts]” with the Arab world.
“In light of these recent developments, Israel’s plans — including the establishment of an Arab-Sunni coalition against Shiite Iran — have been shelved,” Nasrallah claimed.