BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday accused Saudi Arabia of asking his archenemy Israel to launch strikes on Lebanon amid ongoing tension between Riyadh and Tehran.
“The most dangerous thing is inciting Israel to strike Lebanon,” the head of Lebanese Shiite terror group said in a televised address. “I’m talking about information that Saudi Arabia has asked Israel to strike Lebanon.”
But Nasrallah said that war with Israel was unlikely. He said that Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy which seeks to destroy Israel, was watching carefully for any Israeli attempts to use the crisis, that began with the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week, to initiate hostilities against Lebanon.
Israel has stressed that it does not seek war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but has acted repeatedly to prevent advanced weapons reaching the Iran-inspired group, which has become the most powerful military force in Lebanon.
Nasrallah’s comments were aimed at calming an apparently jittery population following Saudi Arabia’s escalation against Hezbollah’s patron Iran. The resignation of Hariri was seen as a move by Riyadh to engage in another proxy war with Iran, this time in Lebanon.
Hariri was in Saudi Arabia when he delivered his resignation address.
Israel and Hezbollah most recently fought a devastating war in 2006. Nasrallah warned Israel against “miscalculation” or “taking advantage of the situation.” He said Israel should not think “we are troubled. No, absolutely not.”
“Today we are more confident and feeling stronger in the face of any threat,” said Nasrallah, whose party is the only organisation that did not disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war and now has an arsenal that outstrips Lebanon’s own armed forces.
Nasrallah also accused Saudi Arabia of detaining Hariri.
“The head of the Lebanese government is detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon until now,” Nasrallah said in the televised address, his first since Hariri resigned last week.
Hariri’s situation is not completely clear and calls, including from his Lebanese political rivals, have mounted for Saudi Arabia to guarantee the prime minister’s freedom of movement.
The 47-year-old announced his resignation on November 4 in a surprise move that coincided with a sweeping purge in the Saudi kingdom’s elite, ostensibly over embezzlement accusations. He condemned Hezbollah and Iran and said his life was in danger.
Hariri, who was born in Saudi Arabia, did not say when he would return to Lebanon, where President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept his resignation.
In a statement issued on Friday after a meeting with the Saudi envoy to Lebanon, Aoun insisted Hariri should return to Lebanon but did not elaborate on the premier’s current situation in Riyadh.
“President Aoun met Saudi charge d’affaires Walid Bukhari and informed him that the circumstances in which Mr. Hariri’s resignation took place were unacceptable,” the statement said.
The president “called for the return to Lebanon of the head of the government.”
Aoun, whose political ally Hezbollah is a fierce critic of Saudi Arabia, also “voiced his concern over what is being said” about Hariri’s current status in Saudi Arabia and demanded a “clarification”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has close ties with both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, visited Riyadh on Wednesday.
Macron’s foreign minister said on French radio Friday he thought Hariri’s freedom of movement was not impeded, despite most of the Lebanese political class implying he was de facto under house arrest.
“He went to Abu Dhabi the day before President Macron’s visit (on Wednesday) so we think he’s free to move around,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.