Hezbollah leader blames West, Gulf Arab states for rise of jihadist army WASHINGTON – The deputy head of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon has warned that ISIS could begin launching attacks against the Lebanese army as early as next month. He further places the blame for the rise of ISIS on the West and Gulf Arab countries that continue to finance and arm the jihadist group. Sheik Naim Qassem said ISIS is planning major offensives after the winter ends next month against the Lebanese army, which has been launching preemptive attacks along the Lebanese border with Syria.
Hezbollah fighters have been assisting the Lebanese army in repelling jihadist attacks into Lebanon. Observers say jihadist attacks, especially into northern Lebanon, are in response to Hezbollah sending its fighters into Syria to assist the Syrian military against a fractured Syrian opposition whose ranks over the past two years have swelled with Sunni jihadist fighters mainly from ISIS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front.
Qassam’s warning recently was underscored in a WND report that some 3,000 Sunni jihadist fighters have gathered in the Syrian Qalamoun mountains bordering eastern Lebanon, poised to attack a series of Christian towns in northern and central Lebanon. The concern is that the jihadists are staging not only in the north around Tripoli and in areas in the northern Bekaa Valley but also around Saida, or Sidon, south of Beirut, and in the south from the Syrian Golan Heights. In its preemptive attacks, the Lebanese army, backed by Shiite elements of Hezbollah fighters, has been launching artillery against ISIS positions in the northern part of Lebanon.
The Lebanese army has begun to undertake preemptive strikes following offensive ISIS attacks last month around Ras Baalbek from their positions in the Syrian Qalamoun mountains just across the border. The army was able to repel the attacks, but ISIS killed some 22 Lebanese soldiers and took police hostages on the outskirts of Arsal, which ISIS now occupies.
Qassem said the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for creating the jihadist group. “We hear the world wants to confront ISIS because it represents takfiri (foreign) terrorism,” Qassem said. “Who created ISIS? Those who want to fight ISIS are the ones who raised and funded ISIS.”
He said the U.S. and its coalition partners of Arab countries have been providing ISIS with weapons and training. He said it all started from “Afghanistan all the way to Syria and Iraq.” Qassem also accused Israel of providing assistance to ISIS and other jihadist fighters, especially in the Syrian Golan Heights. “Israel opened hospitals to ISIS casualties and contact between takfiris in Syria’s Qunaitra and Israel is constantly ongoing uninterrupted because they are part of this scheme,” Qassem said. Qassem’s allegation against Israel is backed by a recent report by United Nations observers to the U.N. Security Council.
The report described how over the past 18 months the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, has been in regular contact with Syrian rebels, including ISIS militants. Such contact has included providing medical care to a wounded jihadi fighters. In its report, the U.N. observers said a wounded fighter “was taken by armed members of the opposition across the cease-fire line, where he was transferred to a civilian ambulance escorted by an IDF vehicle.” Reports from Israel’s Druze minority also have expressed concern over the hospitalization of wounded Syrian fighters from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra Front in Israel.
“Some Israeli media outlets have further revealed direct cooperation between the militants and the Israeli army,” according to Middle East expert Jean Aziz said, “and other media outlets have reported about the lack of animosity between the Israeli state and Jabhat al-Nusra, which represents al-Qaida in Syria, as well as Israeli reports about direct contacts with the Syrian opposition and mutual reassurances.” Nusra’s positioning in the Syrian Golan is not only seen as threatening Hezbollah’s presence at that strategic location to ward off any southern invasion of Lebanon from the jihadists; it is also a strategic location for the Iranian-proxy group against Israel to its north. In confronting ISIS in an expected spring offensive into Lebanon, the Lebanese army has been launching attacks in the surrounding towns in the north around Ras Baalbeck, which is only 25 miles from the historic Roman city of Baalbek, which has been a major tourist magnet.
Attacks around Baalbek also have occurred near Britel in areas controlled by Hezbollah, but, so far, the jihadists have been unsuccessful. Deep in Shia-controlled territory, Baalbek, where settlements are believed to go back 9,000 years, has withstood centuries of attacks from barbarians, the Greeks and the Romans. The city once was given as a gift by the Roman general Marcus Antonius – Marc Antony – to his lover, Egyptian queen Cleopatra, as a birthday gift.
Ras Baalbek, in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley, is in a Christian region of the country. Nusra and ISIS seek to target it as a stepping stone to such other ancient Christian towns in central Bekaa such as Zahle, Firzel, Ablah and Drous. “(Jihadist fighters) are under pressure in the ongoing battle in Syria; in retaliation they may attack the Bekaa, but I assure you they will not be able to do more than hit and run operations,” one Lebanese source told WND.
“The army is ready alongside the resistance (Hezbollah),” he said. “We will prevail, the takfiris (foreign fighters) will not prevail. God does not allow the takfiri to prevail.” In the predominantly Christian region, Islamist fighters have threatened to attack churches and the Christians themselves. In response, the residents are taking up arms.
According to regional expert Esperance Ghanem, however, such attacks would give the militants “both field and moral gains.” “The field aspect is related to how close these villages are to the international road connecting Beirut to Damascus,” Ghanem said. Called the Al-Sham, or Damascus road, Ghanem said it is of strategic importance to supply lines to Syria and is a “vital crossing connecting the northern Bekaa to central and western Bekaa, where some Christian villages are located.”