Lebanon’s prime minister voiced concern on Wednesday about “escalating” Israeli war threats, and said his government will support the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah if a new war breaks out with the Jewish state.
Saad Hariri’s comments come amid heightened tensions in the Middle East following some of the sharpest exchanges in years between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
“We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out,” Mr. Hariri said in an interview posted on the BBC’s Web site on Wednesday. “Every day we have Israeli warplanes entering Lebanese airspace. This is something that is escalating, and this is something that is really dangerous.”
The Western-backed Hariri leads a fragile national unity government that includes two ministers from the militant group Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in a month-long war in 2006.
Mr. Hariri said Lebanon, which has a notoriously fractious political system, would unite in the event of a fresh conflict with Israel.
“I think they’re (Israelis) betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us,” Mr. Hariri said. “There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel. We will stand with our own people.”
Israel’s foreign minister brushed aside the Lebanese leader’s warning.
“As prime minister, he’s simply a hostage of Hezbollah, which has veto power in his Cabinet,” Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio.
Asked whether there might be a new war involving Lebanon and Syria, Mr. Lieberman said: “I very much hope not.”
“We have no interest in heating up the fronts with any of our neighbors. At the same time, we won’t be a punching bag. And we won’t shrug off vitriol that’s directed at Israel,” he said.
Lebanon’s president warned Israel on Tuesday that a war against Lebanon will be “no picnic.”
Last week, Syria’s foreign minister accused Israel of “spreading an atmosphere of war” in the region after Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that the stalled peace process with Syria could result in an all-out regional war.
Walid al-Moallem warned Israelis that “a war at this time will be transferred to your cities.”
Mr. Lieberman said the Syrians “crossed a red line” and warned Syria its army would be defeated and its regime would collapse in a future conflict.