First Published: 2018-04-13

Hezbollah does not see ‘total war’ over Syria
Deputy leader of Iranian-backed Shiite movement rules out situation developing into direct US-Russian clash or wide state of war.
Middle East Online

Sheikh Naim Qassem

BEIRUT - Lebanon's Hezbollah does not believe the latest Syria crisis will spiral into a direct US-Russia conflict or a wider all-out war, its deputy leader said in comments published on Friday.

The heavily armed and Iranian-backed Shiite movement has been a vital military ally of President Bashar al-Assad in the seven-year-old Syrian war.

"We rule out the situation developing into a direct American-Russian clash or a wide state of war," Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria in an interview.

"The conditions do not point to a total war ... unless (US President Donald) Trump and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu completely lose their minds," he said.

Trump has threatened strikes against Assad's forces after a suspected gas attack on a rebel town where dozens of people died, and a Russian envoy has voiced fears of a wider conflict between Washington and Moscow.

The threat of confrontation between Russia, the Syrian state's key ally, and the West loomed after Trump said on Wednesday missiles "will be coming" and lambasted Moscow for standing by Assad.

Trump has tempered those remarks since and even as he consulted allies Britain and France, there were signs of efforts to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of control.

The White House said "no final decision has been made" on Syria after Trump met his national security team on Thursday.

ISRAELI STRIKE

Damascus with its main backers, Russia and Iran, have accused rebels and rescuers of fabricating reports of the Douma attack and Washington of seeking to use it as a pretext for attacking the Syrian army.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Thursday he believed there had been a chemical attack, but added shortly after there was no decision on launching military action.

Asked about possible spillover into Lebanon, Qassem said: "If the assault on Syria has a very limited scope, then it's expected that reactions from the concerned sides in Syria will be tied to the Syrian arena."

Iran's expanding power in Syria has caused deep alarm in Israel, which has mounted air strikes in Syria against what it describes as Hezbollah and Iranian targets.

Tehran has threatened to respond to an air strike on a Syrian military base on Monday which it blamed on Israel, as did Damascus and Moscow.

Qassem said the strike, which killed seven Iranians, was an assault "on both Syria and Iran that has consequences which I do not know the limit of now".

Hezbollah, which last fought a major war with Israel in 2006, would not open a new front against its arch-foe from Lebanon, he said. "But the resistance is ready for surprises."

Hezbollah does not expect Israel to launch a war for now but is prepared for one, Qassem told Reuters in an interview last month.

 

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