Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah has warned of an “escalation” with Israel if Lebanese demands are not met in talks over the sea border.
In a televised address Friday for a Hezbollah event, Nasrallah denied any link between the Iranian-backed terror organization’s actions in the maritime dispute, in which the United States has been mediating, and ongoing negotiations to restore the nuclear deal. Iranian 2015, which seemed to be climaxing.
“If the Lebanese state is not given what it wants, we will be heading for an escalation, even if the nuclear deal is signed,” the Hezbollah leader said. according to the Lebanese news site Naharnet. “If the American mediator comes along and gives the Lebanese state what he wants, we will head for calm, regardless of whether or not there will be a nuclear deal.”
“The eyes of the Lebanese should not be on Vienna… The eyes should be on Karish, the maritime border and northern Israel,” he added, referring respectively to the location of the border talks and a claimed offshore Israeli gas field. for Lebanon.
Nasrallah also lashed out at Amos Hochstein, the US State Department mediator in the Israel-Lebanon maritime dispute, who he said was “still wasting time.” He said Hochstein’s “time is running out” to negotiate a deal.
Hezbollah stands to gain financially from a revamped nuclear deal, which would see its main backer, Iran, receive substantial relief from US sanctions profits from offshore gas exploration.
The head of Hezbollah has recently launched a series of threats toward Israel, amid intensified US efforts to resolve the more than decade-long maritime border dispute between Jerusalem and Beirut, which have been officially at war since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.
Both countries claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon also claims that the Karish gas field is in disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, while Israel says it is within its internationally recognized economic waters.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies who fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iran-backed Shiite group its most serious immediate threat, estimating that Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
Lebanon urgently needs an agreement on the maritime border in the Mediterranean as it hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves to try to alleviate what has become the worst economic crisis in its modern history.
Last month, the Israeli army shot down four unarmed Hezbollah drones flying towards the Karish countryside. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati criticized Hezbollah at the time, saying the move could pose risks to the country. Hezbollah also broadcast images showing gas platforms in the area.
Earlier this month, Israeli security officials warned the country’s political level that if no agreement is reached in the maritime border dispute with Lebanon, it could be drawn into a military conflict with Hezbollah.
Agencies contributed to this report.