The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Wednesday that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group had sharpened its military capabilities fighting in Syria and was now strong enough to “wipe the Zionist regime off the map” on its own.
“They [the US and its allies] intended to undermine Iran’s regional influence, but everyone witnessed how this policy backfired to increase Iran’s influence and a united front was formed against the Zionist regime,” Gen. Hossein Salami said at a ceremony in the northern city of Urumiyeh, according to the Fars news agency.
“The Lebanese Hezbollah has now developed such an extent of power through the experience of confrontation against proxy wars that it is now able to wipe the Zionist regime off the map in any possible war by itself,” he said.
The Islamic Republic funds the terror group’s activities.
Salami’s remarks come amid soaring tensions between the US and Iran and growing accusations in the Arab world that Israel was responsible for a massive explosion earlier this week at a weapons depot in Baghdad controlled by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia.
On Tuesday, a former Iraqi deputy prime minister appeared to blame Israel for the massive explosion the night before. On Wednesday, an unnamed security source told Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, that Israel was behind the strike.
“All indications point to Israel, perhaps with the support of the United States, completing what it started in Syria in terms of targeting sites with Iranian forces,” the source was quoted as saying.
Israel has not commented on the claims.
According to foreign media reports, Israel has been increasingly active in carrying out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, shifting its focus after years of reported raids aimed at keeping Tehran from gaining a foothold in Syria.
Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state.
An Israeli satellite imaging firm released photos of the destroyed weapons depot, saying it was “probable” the structure was razed in an airstrike.
Also on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Israeli involvement in US-led naval efforts to boost security in the Persian Gulf after a series of tanker seizures by Iran.
At a weekly cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Gulf states can guarantee security in the region without US assistance and accused Israel of sowing instability in the Middle East.
“Israelis had better take care of the security of where they are if they can. Although, wherever they had a presence, they brought about nothing but insecurity, slaughter and terror,” he was quoted saying by the Mehr news agency.
“The main perpetrator of terrorism, war and slaughter in the region is the occupying regime of Israel,” he added.
His comments came in response to efforts by the Trump administration to set up a US-led naval security mission around the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran’s recent seizures of vessels has raised tensions with the West.
The US wants an international coalition to monitor and potentially escort commercial ships there. Britain said last week it would join the mission; no other US allies have committed themselves so far.
It’s not clear if Israel has been asked to participate, but last week the Ynet news site reported that Foreign Minister Israel Katz told a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was involved in the US-led efforts.
Katz said Israel was assisting the mission to secure the crucial waterway with intelligence and in other unspecified fields. He stressed the mission was in Israel’s strategic interest of countering Iran and boosting ties with Gulf countries.