BEIRUT — The leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group said Friday that his powerful militia is engaged in unprecedented cross-border fighting with Israel and threatened escalation.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s widely anticipated speech was his first since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, sparked by the Palestinian militants’ deadly Oct. 7 incursion into southern Israel.
Nasrallah stopped short of announcing that Hezbollah is fully engaging in the war, but said the fighting on the Lebanon-Israel border would “not be limited” to the scale seen until now.
The speech came a day after the most significant escalation in clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the border since the war started, and on the same day as a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge protections for civilians in the fighting with Hamas.
Nasrallah praised the Hamas attack four weeks ago on Israeli settlements and military posts in southern Israel. More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel in the attack by Hamas, a Hezbollah ally.
“This great, large-scale operation was purely the result of Palestinian planning and implementation,” Nasrallah said, suggesting his forces had no part in the attack. “The great secrecy made this operation greatly successful.”
Since the beginning of the war, Hezbollah has taken calculated steps to keep Israel’s military busy on its border with Lebanon, but not to the extent of igniting an all-out war.
Nasrallah said that Oct. 7 had come as “proof that Israel is weaker than a spider’s web” and that one month into the war, it allegedly “has not been able to make any achievement.”
Nasrallah also criticized the strong U.S. backing of Israel in its bombardment of Gaza that has killed more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians. While U.S. officials in recent days have pushed more publicly for protecting civilians in Gaza, they have yet to call for a cease-fire.
The Hezbollah leader said President Biden had made a “fake argument that Hamas cut off children’s heads without evidence, but stayed silent for the thousands of children in Gaza who were decapitated and their limbs were torn apart” by Israeli bombing.
The Israeli military said seven of their soldiers and one civilian had been killed on the northern border as of Friday. More than 50 Hezbollah fighters and 10 militants with allied groups, as well as 10 civilians, including a Reuters journalist, have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border.