Hezbollah’s deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem on Friday touted the Lebanese militant group’s “plan and vision” for further involvement in the war between Israel and Hamas, as analysts raise alarms about the potential of regional destabilization if additional parties join the conflict.
On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest-ever airstrikes on Gaza. As of Friday, more than 1,300 people had been killed in Israel, the Associated Press reported. At least 1,799 people had been killed in Gaza, according to authorities there, the AP said, citing the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is “at war” and has cut off supplies of food, fuel, electricity and medicine to Gaza. Israel has called up 360,000 army reservists as it prepares for a possible ground offensive into the territory, which has an estimated population of around 2.3 million.
Hezbollah, which maintains significant political power in Lebanon and is backed by Iran, has repeatedly praised the Hamas assault on Israel and voiced its staunch support for Palestinians. The group has already exchanged multiple barrages of artillery with the Israeli military since the Hamas attack. Lebanon borders Israel to the north and officially views Israel as an enemy state.
During a pro-Palestinian rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Qassem suggested to the crowd that Hezbollah was prepared to join the war, insisting that the Lebanese militant group does not fear U.S. warnings.
“We in Hezbollah are contributing to the confrontation and we’ll contribute to it within our vision and plan,” the Hezbollah leader said, Lebanese news site Naharnet reported.
“We are following up on the enemy’s step, we are maintaining full readiness and when the time comes for any action we will do it,” he added, rejecting calls for Hezbollah to remain out of the conflict.
He said, “Asking us not to interfere in the battle, will not affect us,” adding that “Hezbollah knows its duties.”
“Your battleships do not interest us, nor do your statements frighten us,” Qassem said, referring to the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group which the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin deployed in the Mediterranean in the wake of the Hamas attack.
Newsweek reached out to the State Department for comment on Qassem’s remarks. Previously in a Monday email, a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that Hezbollah’s involvement would negatively impact Lebanon.
“Any decision by Hezbollah or other actors to drag Lebanon into this conflict would have terrible consequences for the Lebanese people. They deserve better,” the spokesperson said.
Danny W. Davis, professor of the practice in homeland security at Texas A&M University, told Newsweek that Hezbollah’s capabilities are significantly superior to Hamas.
“Hezbollah is a much stronger, and larger organization, as you know centered in Lebanon. The support they receive from Iran easily outstrips that the Iranians provide Hamas. Hezbollah possess a lot of conventional weapons and have the soldiers to use them. They also have a type of longer-range missile that is capable of hitting any target in Israel,” he said.
The professor said that he would expect the State Department is “working through” allies to explain to Iran’s diplomats “the cost they will pay should Hezbollah, or Iran directly enter the fray.”
“I believe Hezbollah will do exactly what the Iranian leaders order them to do,” Davis said.
Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official who served as senior Arab affairs adviser to multiple mayors of Jerusalem, warned in a Friday opinion article for The Hill that Hezbollah getting further involved in the war would “destabilize more than just Israel.” Melamed pointed to Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis and Hezbollah’s precarious position within the country, predicting that the group’s involvement could potentially result in “civil war.”
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, dismissed Hezbollah’s Friday remarks as “sheer rhetoric” to placate its supporters, who strongly back the Palestinian people.
“Hezbollah is dissociating itself from the war between Israel and Hamas. It displayed its solidarity with Hamas in minor cross-border exchanges of fire with the Israelis,” Khashan told Newsweek in a Friday email.
Later on Friday, Hezbollah announced that it had launched strikes on several points in Israel. The group said the attacks came in response to Israeli shelling of south Lebanon.
Separately, the Lebanese military said in a statement that “the Israeli enemy targeted an unoccupied military observation tower in the vicinity of the town of Alma Al Shaab, used by the Lebanese Army on an ad-hoc basis during the execution of security missions and measures. No injuries were reported among the military personnel.”
Previously on Sunday, Hashem Safi al-Din, the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, suggested that the group would become further involved in the escalating conflict.
“The responsibility obliges all the sons of our nation not to be neutral and we are not neutral,” Safi al-Din said at a pro-Palestinian rally in Beirut, Lebanese news site Naharnet reported.
“It is our right to target the enemy that is still occupying our land and the Israelis must read this message well,” he said.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006 that lasted 34 days. The conflict is estimated to have left some 165 Israelis and more than 1,100 Lebanese dead.
Update, 10/13/2023 at 12:27 p.m. ET: Additional information about Hezbollah and Israeli attacks was added.
Update, 10/13/2023 at 3:12 p.m. ET: Comment from an additional analyst was added.