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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warns Israel about the cost of a war in Lebanon

Hezbollah supporters raise their fists and cheer as they watch a speech given by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a ceremony to commemorate the death of a senior Hezbollah commander in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on Wednesday.
Bilal Hussein
Hezbollah supporters raise their fists and cheer as they watch a speech given by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a ceremony to commemorate the death of a senior Hezbollah commander in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, on Wednesday.

BEIRUT — As fighting along the Lebanese-Israeli border escalates, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is warning Israel that if the conflict were to slide into war, Israeli forces would face a much more powerful enemy than in the past.

Nasrallah spoke for more than an hour Wednesday in a televised speech eulogizing a senior field commander killed in an Israeli airstrike last week. His remarks on the conflict were the most hard-hitting since Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel last October across the border with Lebanon in support of Hamas in Gaza.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military said it had approved a plan for an offensive to push Hezbollah further back from the border, but was still hoping for a diplomatic solution. Nasrallah as well repeated that Hezbollah did not want war, but that the current fighting risked sliding into a much wider battle.

Nasrallah said that in previous wars with Israel, Hezbollah had only hoped of being able to strike Israel’s Meron air base — the center for its northern Israel operations command. Since the conflict began, Hezbollah says it has fired dozens of rockets and missiles at the base. The group was created with the help of Iran after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah fought another war with Israel in 2006.

"Everything you see we can see and everything we can strike we are not sparing in this battlefront," Nasrallah said, speaking at an undisclosed location. "And it won’t be random bombardment. Every drone will have a target. Every missile will have a target."

He noted that Hezbollah had a large stockpile of drones, what he called a surplus of fighters and new weapons that would be unveiled. He did not specify what they were.

He said Hezbollah had continued to receive weapons from Iran even after attacks on presumed weapons-carrying convoys in Syria. He said Hezbollah was also producing weapons in Lebanon.

This week, Hezbollah released a nine-minute video it said it had shot with an Iranian-made drone showing in high resolution images of the Israeli port of Haifa and specific buildings and vessels. It also pinpointed other potential target cities in Israel.

Nasrallah on Wednesday gloated that the drone had slipped through Israel’s extensive air defenses.

He also warned that the Mediterranean Sea would also become a target in any war.

"Now they are preoccupied in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea. The brothers in Yemen are trying," he said referring to Yemeni Houthi attacks on Israeli-linked ships and tankers."

If they open a war in Lebanon, the situation in the Mediterranean Sea would become completely different. All of the coastline, all of the ships, all of the harbors," he said, indicating that Iran would also target those sites.

Analyst Lina Khatib, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, said Nasrallah’s comments and recent threats from Israel were likely intended to avoid escalation by either side.

"This is part of the psychological warfare that both Hezbollah and Israel have been engaging in, with each side wanting to show the other that it has the upper hand when it comes to information and this serves as a deterrent," she said.

Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus, saying the European Union member was hosting Israeli military maneuvers in its mountains, which resemble the mountains of Lebanon, and allowing Israel to use its air bases.

Cyprus and Israel have a joint defense agreement and have conducted joint military exercises in the past. Nasrallah said Cyprus allowing its bases to be used to target Lebanon would make it “part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war."

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides responded by saying his country was not involved in the war in Gaza but rather the humanitarian response.

Nasrallah said the only way for Israel to achieve an end to the conflict at the Lebanese border – as well as with Iraqi and Yemeni groups supporting Hamas – was to end the war in Gaza. He said there was little incentive for Hamas to accept a U.S.-backed deal which offers a limited ceasefire in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.

"They want us to talk with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian brothers to accept," he said. "Accept what? To accept this solution which allows for a pause in the fighting for six months and takes away one of the strongest elements they have?"

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.