A senior Hezbollah leader on Sunday said that Israel was not ready for a conflict with Lebanon and denied allegations from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran was using its proxy to control the Lebanese government.
“I don’t think Israel is ready to start a conflict with Lebanon now because the situation is complicated and Israel is not interested in war,” Sheikh Naim Qassem said, speaking to a Lebanese TV channel. “But it if wants to launch a war, we are ready.”
Qassem was reacting to allegations made earlier Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that Iran controls the new Lebanese government via its proxy Hezbollah group.
On Thursday, political factions in Lebanon ended a nine-month deadlock and agreed on a new government, which saw a strengthening of the Shiite terrorist group.
Hezbollah now holds two ministries and a ministry of state, including for the first time the Health Ministry, which has one of the country’s largest budgets. The Finance Ministry remains in the hands of a Hezbollah ally, Ali Hassan Khalil.
Qassem pointed to this, saying that it was a government of national unity and Hezbollah only controlled 3 out of 31 ministries. “We are only 10 percent,” he said.
Netanyahu, in his first public comments on the government formed in Beirut last week, said the influence of Hezbollah was far greater.
“Iran has proxies. One of them is Hezbollah. Hezbollah just joined the government of Lebanon. That’s a misnomer; they actually control the government of Lebanon. It means that Iran controls the government of Lebanon,” he told a group of 40 ambassadors to the United Nations.
Netanyahu was briefing the delegation, headed by Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon, just before they headed to Israel’s northern border to inspect one of Hezbollah’s cross-border attack tunnels.
“It’s important to send this very powerful message just as we stop the terror tunnels coming into Israel: We will stop all the aggression, from Lebanon or from Syria or from Iran itself,” Netanyahu said.
“We are committed to preventing this aggression, and in so doing we’re not only protecting Israel itself, but also protecting our neighbors and world peace.”
Lebanese political factions agreed finally Thursday on the formation of a new government, breaking a nine-month deadlock that only deepened the country’s economic woes.
Rival political groups have been locked in disagreement over the make-up of a new government since May, after the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years.
The breakthrough came after rival factions worked out a compromise allowing representation of Sunni lawmakers backed by the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah.
The new government will be headed by Saad Hariri, the Sunni politician who headed the outgoing government since 2016. The post always goes to a Sunni politician under the country’s political system.
The government also sees an increase in the number of ministries affiliated with Hezbollah, which is under tightening sanctions from the United States that labels the group a terrorist organization. The group made significant gains in last year’s Parliament elections while Hariri’s block lost a third of its seats.
AP contributed to this report