Wednesday 19 June 2019

Iran won't be alone if war breaks out with US - Hezbollah

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln refuels in the Arabian Sea. Photo: AFP/Getty
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln refuels in the Arabian Sea. Photo: AFP/Getty

Zeina Karam

Should a war with the United States break out Iran "will not be alone", a militant group has warned.

That message was delivered by the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah to a mass rally in Beirut in February marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

"If America launches war on Iran, it will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic," Hassan Nasrallah said.

Yesterday President Donald Trump said he hoped the US is not on a path to war amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for conflict.

Asked if the United States was going to war with Iran, the president replied, "I hope not" - a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting: "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon."

The tone contrasted with a series of moves by the US and Iran that have sharply escalated tensions in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been the public face of the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.

Militant: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke in Beirut. Photo: AFP/Getty
Militant: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke in Beirut. Photo: AFP/Getty

An official with Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard yesterday warned Iranian missiles can "easily reach warships" in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Mohammad Saleh Jokar said Iran's missiles have a range of 2,000km and can attack any target in the region.

The escalating rhetoric has rattled members of the US Congress who are demanding more information on the White House's claims of rising Iranian aggression.

Congressional leaders received a classified briefing on Thursday, but many other politicians from both parties have criticised the White House for not keeping them informed.

From Lebanon and Syria to Iraq, Yemen and the Gaza Strip, Tehran has significantly expanded its footprint over the past decade, finding and developing powerful allies in conflict-ravaged countries across the Middle East.

Hezbollah is one of the most prominent members of the self-styled "axis of resistance", armed groups with tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslim fighters beholden to Tehran.

Iran has used such groups in the past to strike its regional foes, and could mobilise them if the latest tensions lead to an armed conflict - dramatically expanding the battlefield.

Hezbollah, whose Arabic name translates as 'Party of God', was established by Iran's Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s.

Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran's influence to Israel's doorstep.

Earlier this year, former US assistant secretary of state Jeffrey Feltman described the group as revolutionary Iran's "most successful export" and Tehran's "multi-purpose tool".

It was formed to combat Israel following its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It waged an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces, eventually forcing them to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

Six years later, it battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a month-long war.

Today the group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles that can reach deep into Israel, as well as thousands of highly disciplined and battle-hardened fighters. Hezbollah has fought alongside government forces in Syria for more than six years, gaining even more battlefield experience and expanding its reach.

At home, the group's power exceeds the Lebanese armed forces, and along with its allies has more power than ever in the parliament and government.

Despite the rhetoric, Hezbollah says it is not seeking another war with Israel, and it is unlikely to join in any regional confrontation - at least not in the early stages - unless provoked.

Hezbollah has lost hundreds of fighters in Syria, exacting a heavy toll on the Shi'ite community from which it draws most of its support.

Tensions rose dramatically on May 5, when Mr Bolton announced the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group would be rushed from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf ahead of schedule in response to "a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings", without going into details.

Irish Independent

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