Sheikh Naim Qassem

Hezbollah does not believe Israel is capable of starting a conflict with Lebanon, but considers itself “ready” to respond if they do so, the group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said in an interview with Lebanese television on Sunday, Press TV has reported.

“I don’t think Israel is ready to start a conflict with Lebanon now because the situation is complicated and Israel is not interested in war,” Qassem said. “But if it wants to launch a war, we are ready,” the official warned.

Responding to Prime Minister Netanyahu who siad that the newly formed Lebanese government was controlled by Hezbollah, Qassem said this wasn’t the case. “These allegations are not important. Hezbollah considers itself part of a national unity government in Lebanon,” he said. Qassem pointed out that the group comprised “only 10 per cent” of the government, with just three of the new government’s thirty one ministers being Hezbollah members or affiliates.

Earlier, Netanyahu reiterated his longstanding view that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy, and vowed to send a “very powerful message, just as we stop the terror tunnels coming into Israel: We will stop all the aggression, from Lebanon or from Syria or from Iran itself.”

Lebanon formed a new government last Thursday, following nine months of deadlock after elections last May. Long delays in cabinet formation are common in Lebanese politics due to the country’s political system, which allocates power on the basis of sectarian affiliation.

Together with Israel, the United States voiced concerns over Hezbollah’s participation in the new government, including its control of the health ministry, which enjoys the country’s largest budget. Qassem emphasized that Hezbollah’s control over the health portfolio will not in any way alter the system’s functioning, with new minister Hezbollah affiliate Dr. Jamil Jabak listing his priorities as improving state hospitals and lowering prescription drug prices.

Already tense relations between Israel and Lebanon escalated further late last year after the Israeli military launched  ”Operation Northern Shield ”to destroy Hezbollah’s terror tunnels that burrowed into Israel.  The terrorist group dismissed the operation, saying the tunnels were built well before the 2006 war.