The leader of Lebanon’s Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah warned late Monday that Iran could hit U.S. bases in the Middle East in response to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities – even if American forces played no role in the attack
“A decision has been taken to respond and the response will be very great,” Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen television.
“The response will not be just inside the Israeli entity - American bases in the whole region could be Iranian targets,” he said, citing information he said was from Iranian officials. “If Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the Hezbollah leader denied that his group possessed chemical weapons.
“We don’t have chemical weapons and we cannot use them for reasons linked to the Sharia and for humanitarian reasons,” Nasrallah.
At the end of July, a number of Israeli officials warned against a possible transfer of Syrian chemical weapons to Hezbollah, an ally of Damascus.
The Syrian regime, gripped by an unprecedented revolt for 18 months, admitted in July for the first time that it possessed chemical weapons and threatened to use them in the event of foreign military intervention.
Nasrallah, who rarely grants interviews, said that in the case of “enemy attacks” against Lebanon, Hezbollah would not be content to “defend itself” but would “enter Galilee”.
In February 2011, the armed movement threatened to invade this region of northern Israel in the event of an Israeli attack.
Following Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the border, the Israeli army launched an offensive into Lebanon in July and August 2006 to punish a movement that managed to fire 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to strike Lebanon if Hezbollah provokes the Jewish state, Haaretz newspaper reported.
Netanyahu said he believes that Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese government, warning the government that it will be held “responsible for whatever happens in its jurisdiction.”
The Israeli premier’s message was relayed through “a Western diplomat he met in Jerusalem several weeks ago,” Haaretz reported.
According to a senior official who was close to the meeting between Netanyahu and the U.S. official, if if the resistance party should attack Israel, Netanyahu said the Israeli army would “strike back forcefully – without differentiating between Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon.”
Heightened Israeli rhetoric about Tehran’s nuclear facilities, which the West says could be part of a weapons program, has stoked speculation that it may attack Iran before U.S. elections in November.
Netanyahu urged world powers on Sunday to set a “clear red line” to convince Iran they would prevent it from obtaining nuclear arms.
Israel, thought to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, views Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its regional dominance and to its very existence. Tehran says the atomic work is for peaceful purposes only.
But Netanyahu’s cabinet is divided over the wisdom of attacking Iran, and Israeli officials have dropped heavy hints of a climbdown strategy, under which Netanyahu would shelve threats of an attack now in return for a stronger public pledge from President Barack Obama on conditions that would provoke U.S. action in future.
Nasrallah said there were divisions in Israel over attacking Iran. “Personally I do not expect the Israeli enemy - at least in the coming months or foreseeable future - (to wage) an attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
Nasrallah pointed to the fragile global economy, which would be weakened further by any sharp rise in crude oil prices stemming from conflict in the Gulf, and to likely Israeli casualties in any war with Iran.
“Netanyahu and (Defense Minister Ehud) Barak inflate the benefit and play down the cost,” he said, referring to Barak’s estimates that Israel could suffer up to 500 fatalities in any conflict aimed at wiping out Iran’s nuclear facilities.