Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-aligned Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, has said Israel is now concentrating its attacks in Syria on missile-manufacturing sites, while denying that Iranian troops were currently operating in the war-torn country beyond serving as “military advisers and experts”.
Israel has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, saying any presence of Hezbollah and Iran, which have played a vital role in supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, remained a strategic threat in the neighbouring country.
In rare comments on Israeli attacks in Syria, Nasrallah said that with al-Assad firmly in control, Israel has turned its attention more recently to striking targets “linked to missile production in Syria”, saying Israel feared that the manufacturing of “precision missiles” could spell “new dangers” for Israel.
During the televised statements on Wednesday, Nasrallah also denied that any Iranian troops were currently operating in Syria or that Israeli air attacks have pushed either Hezbollah or Iran to retreat from Syria, calling Israel’s claims that they have done so “imaginary victories”.
“In Syria, there is an imaginary battle that Israel is waging, called ‘not allowing the presence of Iranian military troops in Syria’,” he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said in April that the Israeli military was working to drive Tehran out of Syria.
Nasrallah instead said that Iranian military experts were in Syria with the aim of “advising and helping Syrian troops, and managing groups of Syrian, Arab and Islamic popular resistance forces”.
“They train them, prepare them and manage them in ongoing battles,” as well as handle “coordination with resistance movements including Hezbollah”, he said.
The head of the Shia movement, which officially joined the war in Syria in 2013, however, conceded that in “an exceptional case” Iranian troops took part in the battle for the northern city of Aleppo in late 2016. The victory dealt a major blow to the armed opposition in the country.
Iran ‘not waging a battle for influence’
Nasrallah also rejected the notion that the Damascus regime’s allies Iran and Russia are entangled in a power struggle in Syria.
“Iran is not waging a battle for influence with anybody, not with Russia … and not with anybody” else, he said.
“The Islamic Republic’s position in Syria has been clear, and based on preventing Syria from falling under the hegemony of America and Israel,” he added.
The Hezbollah chief spoke on the four-year anniversary of the death of a top Hezbollah commander in Syria, who was killed in an explosion near Damascus International Airport.
The group has blamed Sunni fighters for killing Mustafa Badreddine, who was on a US sanctions blacklist and wanted by Israel.
He had been on trial in absentia before a special tribunal in The Hague accused him of masterminding the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.