Hezbollah will only be satisfied when it has killed an Israeli soldier, thereby reestablishing “deterrence,” the Lebanon-based terror group’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday.
“I want to be more clear than at any previous time: when Israel kills one of our fighters, we will kill one of your soldiers,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech to mark the holiday of Ashura.
Tensions have been rising between Hezbollah and Israel since the IDF reportedly killed Hezbollah commander Ali Kamel Mohsen in a July 20 airstrike near the Damascus airport. In general, Israel does not comment on whether it carried out specific strikes in Syria, although it has acknowledged generally that it carries out periodic raids to fight Hezbollah and Iranian military entrenchment in the neighboring country.
The Israeli army has said it prevented at least three infiltrations over the past several weeks and brought down a Hezbollah drone flown into Israeli territory from Lebanon. Last Tuesday, Israeli forces fired numerous flares over south Lebanon in response to an attempted incursion. Israel also reportedly shelled Hezbollah-affiliated “environmental organization” Green Without Borders.
Nasrallah said that Israel was hoping to allow for a simple exchange of fire which would cause material damage on both sides and end the escalation of hostilities.
“This is the equation. We’re not going to blast sites and iron fences and tanks. [The enemy] has all the money in the world to replace them. That is not what creates deterrence with Israel,” Nasrallah said.
According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah fighters operating along the fence in previous weeks had refrained from targeting Israeli equipment as they searched for an Israeli soldier to kill.
“Israel knows that we were not looking for some device to destroy. We were looking for a soldier to kill,” Nasrallah continued. “So he hid all of his soldiers. Like mice, hiding.”
Nasrallah did not provide a timeframe for the operation, merely saying that “we are not in a hurry.”
“We are not avenging ourselves for the sake of vengeance. We are acting to punish the killers and stabilize the balance of deterrence,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah also condemned the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The agreement — announced in mid-August — provides for a full normalization of relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “peace for peace” and “peace through strength.”
“We’ve gone from ‘land for peace’ to ‘peace for peace’ and we’ll one day reach ‘peace for nothing,’ nothing but humiliation,” Nasrallah said. “This is a gift to Netanyahu during his darkest days politically.”
Hezbollah has been under increasing criticism inside Lebanon since a hangar full of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Beirut port. The Lebanese have largely blamed government negligence for the explosion, which killed at least 181 people, injured over 6,000 and left 300,000 Beirut residents homeless.
Hezbollah is the most powerful political actor in the country and the dominant force in the ruling coalition; as such, it has not escaped criticism. In massive anti-government protests in Beirut following the explosion, a cardboard cutout of Nasrallah was hanged alongside other prominent Lebanese politicians, such as Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally.
While some reports have tied the nitrate to the Lebanese terror group — which has an extensive international smuggling network — no definitive proof has yet surfaced. An official Lebanese investigation into the explosion’s causes has yet to announce any charges or interrogate any senior government figures.
The wave of popular protest following the explosion led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who took the job in January after a wave of similar anti-government demonstrations. The collapse of Diab’s government thrust Lebanon into a new political crisis.
Many Lebanese are angry with the country’s political elite but feel that there is no viable path to reform. Lebanon’s confessional voting system — which divides representation between different religious groups — has long helped the ruling elite maintain power and made enacting popular reforms more difficult.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that France would follow a policy of “demanding without interfering” in an attempt to ensure that the country could advance politically.
Nasrallah said Sunday he welcomed efforts by Macron to mediate in the country.
“On his last visit to Lebanon, we heard a call from the French president for a new political covenant in Lebanon… today, we are open to a constructive discussion in this regard,” Nasrallah said in Sunday’s speech.
Agencies contributed to this report.