The second-in-command of the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror group said in an interview published Friday that a broader war in the region was unlikely, despite threats from US President Donald Trump to launch military action against Syria following a suspected chemical attack blamed on Damascus.
“We rule out the situation developing into a direct American-Russian clash or a wide state of war,” Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria, as translated by Reuters news agency.
“The conditions do not point to a total war… unless [US President Donald] Trump and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu completely lose their minds,” he added.
His comments came amid anticipation of a coordinated international attack on the Syrian regime by the US, France and the UK over the alleged chemical attack in Douma.
The Iranian proxy’s deputy leader also spoke as Israel remained on high alert on its northern border over threats by the Islamic Republic to retaliate for a deadly Syrian base air raid earlier this week that was blamed on Israel.
On Thursday, Trump put off a final decision on possible military strikes against Syria after tweeting earlier that they could happen “very soon or not so soon at all.” The White House said he would consult further with allies.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Trump on Thursday that an attack carried the risk of spinning out of control, suggesting caution ahead of a decision on how to respond to an attack against civilians last weekend that US officials are increasingly certain involved the use of banned chemical weapons. British officials said up to 75 people were killed.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in the Netherlands, announced it was sending a fact-finding team to the site of the attack outside Damascus, and it was due to arrive Saturday. It was not clear whether the presence of the investigators could affect the timing of any US military action.
Asked what Hezbollah would do in the event of US military action in Syria, Qassem declined to give specifics, but maintained it would not necessarily spiral into a regional war.
“If the assault on Syria has a very limited scope, then it’s expected that reactions from the concerned sides in Syria will be tied to the Syrian arena,” he said.
Iran, the Hezbollah terror organization’s main patron, has threatened to attack the Jewish state over a predawn Monday missile barrage on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria attributed to the Jewish state. Iranian media reported that seven members of the country’s military were killed in the strike, out of at least 14 reported fatalities. One was named as a colonel in the air force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Israel has refused to comment on the attack, for which it has been blamed by Iran, Russia and Syria. Two US officials were also quoted as saying that Israel had carried out the strike, adding that Washington was informed in advance.
Qassem said Friday that if Israel flew over Lebanese air space to bomb Syria, as it reportedly did on Saturday night, that would be considered an act of “aggression,” but implied that it would be dealt with in the political sphere and not militarily.
In February Qassem told Reuters news agency that his Iran-backed terror group was prepared for war, but did not think Israel would launch an attack in the near future.
Hezbollah “is ready to confront the aggression if it happens, if Israel decides to carry out any foolish action,” he told Reuters. “But it does not appear that the circumstances are for an Israeli decision for war.”
“We have declared repeatedly and frequently that we, as the resistance, work to have permanent readiness and we are ready to confront the Israeli aggression if it happens, and therefore we are ready to defend ourselves by all available means,” he told the news agency.
The Iranian proxy has held on to its weapons and made efforts to obtain advanced weaponry, a development Israel has vowed to prevent. Dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys bound for Lebanon have been attributed to Israel by foreign media reports. It has also deployed units south of the Litani River.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.