Bloomberg: Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said his country is willing to provide military help to Lebanon, a day after Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese army to seek Iran’s support.
By Ladane Nasseri and Massoud A. Derhally
Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said his country is willing to provide military help to Lebanon, a day after Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese army to seek Iran’s support.
“Lebanon is our friend and its army is also our friend,” Vahidi was cited by Iranian state television as saying after a cabinet meeting in Tehran today. “If this country makes a request we are ready to help them and have a military exchange.”
Iran, ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, is a backer of the Shiite Hezbollah movement. The organization is part of a coalition government under Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads a pro-Western bloc.
In a televised speech late yesterday, Nasrallah said Lebanon’s government should seek military aid for the country’s army from Arab states, and that he’s prepared to mediate with Iran to secure arms for Lebanese forces if necessary. A $100 million U.S. aid package for Lebanon’s military was put on hold this month by two Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“It’s difficult to give probability on something that is obviously for the government to decide and it hasn’t decided yet; I don’t want to speculate,” said Mohamad Chatah , Hariri’s chief political adviser, in a phone interview today when asked whether Lebanon would accept Iranian military aid. “There is a principle here that we need to keep our army well equipped and well trained. The discussion on the sources of the equipment is something that needs to be decided by the government.”
The U.S. aid was frozen after Howard Berman of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Nita Lowey of New York said they need to know more about a fatal border clash in southern Lebanon between the Lebanese military and Israel, and the military’s relationship with Hezbollah.
Until that review is finished, “I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon,” Berman said in a Aug. 9 statement.
The Aug. 3 shooting left four people dead, including two Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli officer, after Israeli troops tried to trim a tree along the United Nations’ Blue Line separating the two countries.
The Lebanese government said the delay to the aid package was “unwarranted” and that the U.S. help was allowing Lebanon’s army to extend its authority to the region bordering Israel.
Israel believes Hezbollah has an arsenal of 40,000 short- and medium-range rockets and a force of 20,000 fighters, around a third of whom have received combat training in Iran, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported last month.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a month long war in the summer of 2006 along the border. Part of Hezbollah’s popularity stems from its role in forcing Israel’s army to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. The U.S. and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.