LONDON, Nov. 21 (JTA) — Hezbollah may launch attacks against Israel if the Jewish state unilaterally withdraws from southern Lebanon without reaching prior agreements with Syria and Lebanon.
The warning appeared this week in the Saudi Arabian news weekly al-Majalla, which interviewed Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheik Na’im Kassem.
Kassem did not explicitly say that Hezbollah would carry the fight into northern Israel, but he noted that a unilateral Israeli pullout would leave the “area” open to all eventualities.
Citing the major factors that would determine events after an Israeli withdrawal, he referred to the future of the Golan Heights and the fate of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
Kassem’s remarks followed a warning by “sources close to Hezbollah” last week that there would be no stability in the region if the problem of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon remains unresolved.
While Hezbollah has yet to state outright whether it would continue its attacks after an Israeli withdrawal, Kassem’s comments are thought to be the most dire to emerge on the subject from the fundamentalist group’s leadership.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has repeatedly pledged to withdraw the Israeli army from southern Lebanon by the middle of next year.
The pledge came in the wake of Israeli protests over the nation’s growing casualties in the region.
But, according to Kassem, a withdrawal may not stem those losses.
Talk in Israel about a withdrawal is “linked to the magnitude of the losses and Israel’s capacity to absorb them. Suffering losses today might be better for Israel than a withdrawal, which could lead to bigger losses if there is no agreement.
The Israelis “face a choice between bad and worse,” he added.
A complete Israeli withdrawal — without an agreement over the refugees and the Golan — would leave “the picture confused and the results unknown in their details,” said Kassem.
“Developments could occur that would render such a withdrawal full of negative factors for Israel.”
But he told al-Majalla he did not believe Israel was in a position to decide now what it will do next year.
“It is necessary to wait and see whether Syrian-Israeli negotiations resume in the coming months and whether they make progress. The answer to these questions will determine the nature of the withdrawal from Lebanon,” he said.