Praising Hezbollah, Russian envoy claims US could spark new Israel-Lebanon war

Moscow’s ambassador in Beirut says US stance toward Iran is destabilizing region, hails terror group for fighting alongside Russia in Syria

Russian Ambassador in Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin in Beirut, Lebanon, May 16, 2016. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Russian Ambassador in Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin in Beirut, Lebanon, May 16, 2016. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

Russia’s ambassador in Beirut said US policies toward Iran could set off a fresh war between Israel and Lebanon, while championing the country’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Though he said renewed fighting between the sides remained uncertain, Alexander Zasypkin accused the United States of inciting “new conflicts” that he said could draw in countries and actors throughout the Middle East.

“As for a conflict between Israel and Lebanon, nothing can be predicted with certainty because the region is at a crossroads. Peoples are demanding the settlement of existing crises, the return to a peaceful life, the development of cooperation,” Zasypkin told the state-owned Sputnik news agency in an interview published Saturday.

“A negative alternative to this is the incitement of new conflicts by the Americans, which could involve many countries as well as ethnic and religious forces,” he added.

Zaspykin also claimed the US stance toward Iran and Hezbollah was further destabilizing the region.

Illustrative image of a tank flying the Hezbollah terror group’s flag seen in the Qara area in Syria’s Qalamoun region on August 28, 2017 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

The US has long accused Iran of sowing instability in the Middle East through its support of terrorist and militia groups, as well as its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian government has also received extensive military backing from Russia and Hezbollah.

“When events started unfolding in Syria, Hezbollah sided with its lawful authorities, seeing the fight against terrorists in the region as its duty,” said Zaspykin, echoing a claim from the Assad regime that all its opponents are terrorists.

“The party took a responsible approach to what was happening in Syria and the region as a whole and contributed significantly to terrorists’ defeat,” he added.

Zaspykin’s comments come a week after Lebanon announced the formation of a new government following a nine-month deadlock.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri addresses the media after announcing the new cabinet during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on January 31, 2019. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

The new government is headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Western-backed Sunni politician who has held the job since 2016. But Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Shiite group, made significant gains at the expense of the largest Sunni party and now controls three government ministries.

The Trump administration expressed concerns about Hezbollah holding three Cabinet posts and called on the new government to ensure that group is not supported by the ministries’ resources, while the United Nations said Friday that all Lebanese factions should stay out of foreign conflicts in a message clearly aimed at Hezbollah.

Zaspykin brushed aside concerns about Hezbollah’s inclusion in the new government and said the terror group’s leader was acting as a force of restraint.

“After the formation of a new government, the party’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, notably urged political forces to refrain from fighting among themselves and to take on massive challenges the country faces,” he told Sputnik.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Hezbollah’s role in the new government showed Iran was in control of Lebanon, leading Nasrallah to accuse the premier of “inciting” Western powers against Lebanon.

Days later, Nasrallah gave a speech extolling Iran and said he is willing to ask it to supply the Lebanese military with weapons and aerial defense systems to confront Israeli warplanes, while calling on Beirut to accept the offer.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a live broadcast speech, during a rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, in southern Beirut, Lebanon, on February 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

He also vowed that his organization would defend Iran in the event of war, saying the Islamic Republic would not be alone in a confrontation with America.

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have been heightened in recent months after the Israeli military launched an operation to locate and destroy cross-border attack tunnels reaching into the country that it says were dug by Hezbollah.

The Israel Defense Forces has said the tunnels were to be used by Hezbollah to smuggle fighters into Israel as part of an opening salvo in a future war.

Nasrallah later dismissed the effectiveness of the Israeli operation, which it wrapped up in January, and said the terror group’s plan to invade northern Israel remained intact.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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