The leader of the Hezbollah militia said Sunday that he never would have ordered the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers that led Israel to declare war had he known the consequences for Lebanon.
“If I knew the process of capturing [these soldiers], even with a 1% probability, would lead to a war like this, and then if you asked me would you go and capture them, my answer would be, of course, no -- for humanitarian, moral, social and security reasons,” said Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of the Shiite Muslim militant group.
His comments, the most extensive and candid since the cease-fire began two weeks ago, were aired nationwide in Lebanon and rebroadcast throughout the Arab world.
Nasrallah said he might meet today with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was scheduled to arrive in Beirut to check on the status of the cease-fire resolution, which calls for the deployment of tens of thousands of Lebanese and international troops to the area of southern Lebanon long controlled by Hezbollah.
The Israeli bombing campaign triggered by Hezbollah’s seizure of the soldiers badly damaged Lebanon’s transportation infrastructure, destroyed dozens of southern towns and villages and crushed what was to be a promising summer of tourism revenue, a pillar of the Lebanese economy. Nasrallah’s remarks, in a two-hour television interview on the secular New TV network in Beirut, were clearly meant to assuage the anger and frustration of a country still shocked by a war that cost the lives of more than 800 of its people, many of them civilians.
The cleric said that Israel and the United States had been planning a strike on Hezbollah before the kidnapping of the soldiers, an operation apparently aimed at a prisoner swap. Nasrallah cited a recent article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh, which alleged that Pentagon planners wanted Israel to attack Hezbollah as a precursor to an attack on Iran.
“The war was planned for the end of September or the end of October with or without an excuse,” Nasrallah told the interviewer. “There was a U.S. decision. All the elements indicate it was not about the two prisoners.”
Nasrallah also said his militiamen were well prepared. For example, he said, they had long established contingency plans that took into account Israeli destruction of key Lebanese bridges and roadways. He said that all of his commanders remained unharmed and that Hezbollah had more than 12,000 rockets left, about half of what it had before the war.
“What we used in this war is a small fraction of what we had prepared,” he said.
He said the millions of dollars in cash that Hezbollah was doling out for reconstruction and to alleviate the suffering of homeless Lebanese was “clean” -- that no political conditions have been imposed on Lebanon for taking the money. He declined to confirm or deny that Iran was financing the reconstruction, as has been widely speculated.
“No conditions have been imposed for this money that could jeopardize the national interests of this country,” he said.
Nasrallah promised to abide by the terms of the cease-fire, which has been hampered by ambiguity over whether United Nations peacekeeping forces and Lebanese government soldiers would have the authority to disarm Hezbollah fighters.
“The policy of Hezbollah has always been not to make any armed demonstrations,” he said. “It’s now a commitment. South of the Litani River, we will now avoid any armed shows.”