Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister yesterday said that Tehran was proud of Hezbollah’s efforts at the “vanguard” of the fight against Israel.
Speaking to Iranian state television, deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said “Lebanon’s Hezbollah is the vanguard of resistance against the Zionist regime [Israel] and Iran is proud of the group, which is also the champion of the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.” He also warned that “Calling Hezbollah a terrorist group … will harm the unity and security of Lebanon.”
The comments appeared to be a direct response to Wednesday’s announcement by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that it had formally categorised Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. In a statement, the forum which is comprised of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, said “Hezbollah’s incitement and terrorist acts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq are contrary to morality and human values” and accused Hezbollah of recruiting young men in member states. Hezbollah is fighting alongside President Assad’s troops in Syria, where the group is thought to have suffered significant casualties.
The GCC announcement comes within the context of growing antipathy between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, with both countries vying for regional influence and supremacy. Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia decided to end a £2 billion military aid package to Lebanon, in part due to the growing influence of Hezbollah in the country.
Hezbollah is the de facto ruler of southern Lebanon, where is possesses a large military arsenal, including an estimated 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Hezbollah has also planned and launched attacks on Israeli citizens across the world, most brutally a bus bomb in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas which killed five Israeli tourists in 2012. Since then, Cypriot authorities have apprehended and sentenced two Hezbollah operatives planning attacks against Israelis on the island.