Lebanon’s prime minister disavowed any responsibility for Hezbollah on Tuesday, declaring himself unable to curb the political party-cum-terrorist organization’s activities.
In an interview with American cable news network CNBC, days after a bout of cross-border fire between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces brought long-simmering tensions to a boil, Saad Hariri said the group is not only “a Lebanese problem” but rather “a regional problem.”
“Israel wants to have… this scenario that Lebanon is responsible, with what Netanyahu says, and if you want to buy it, buy it. But he knows and the international community knows that this is not true,” he said.
Israel has warned that it will not differentiate between Lebanon and Hezbollah in a future conflict. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz doubled down on this position.
“What happened in 2006 [during the Second Lebanon War], where Israel distinguished between Lebanon and Hezbollah, won’t happen again,” Katz told Army Radio. “[Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah has the potential to go down in history as the destroyer of Lebanon. Our doctrine right now is that Lebanon equals Hezbollah.”
Hariri had tried to calm tensions during the escalation of hostilities earlier this week, urging the United States and France to intervene to prevent further violence.
On Sunday afternoon, Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile at Israeli military vehicles. No Israelis were hurt and the IDF responded by attacking Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. The tit-for-tat had the potential to escalate as both sides vowed not tolerate fire, but a tense calm returned to the north Monday.
The anti-tank fire came more than a week after an Israeli airstrike against an Iranian-controlled base in Syria in which several operatives were killed, including two Hezbollah members. Israel was also blamed for drone strikes in Beirut. The drones were downed near a Hezbollah stronghold. but Israel did not acknowledge having sent them.
Prior to Sunday’s exchange of fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had issued a warning to both Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Lebanese government, cautioning them to “be careful what you say and be more careful what you do.”
Hariri told CNBC that he was unable to control the group, which has been implicated in the murder of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah is a major force in Lebanese politics and its representatives sit in the country’s parliament.
“I am a pragmatic person, and I know my limits, and I know the limits of this region. If people were serious about this issue, they would have done things 10, 15, 20, 30 years” earlier, he said, adding that he was not opposed to American sanctions imposed on Lebanon’s Jammal Trust Bank last week over its ties to Hezbollah.
Washington “had to take this action, and I don’t like it and I wish this bank didn’t go through what they did,” he said.