Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called for the ouster of US forces from the region in response to the assassinations of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the deputy head of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Soleimani and Muhandis were killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
In a Jan. 5 speech commemorating the death of the two men, Nasrallah said that putting an end to the US troop presence in the region was the appropriate retaliation. He further called for attacks on US military assets as a means to achieve the goal of the expulsion of US forces.
“Fair punishment is (aimed at) the American military presence in the region: American military bases, American naval ships, every American officer and soldier in our countries and region,” Nasrallah said.
He also hinted at possible suicide operations targeting American troops in the region.
“The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased,” he warned.
Nasrallah’s reference to suicide operations brought back to mind the attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.
The United States holds Hezbollah responsible for that attack, which was carried out by a suicide bomber and left 241 US service members dead.
Today Hezbollah is seen as a regional player, having sent fighters to places such as Syria.
Nasrallah himself sounded more like a regional figure than a leader of a Lebanese movement, as his call for action was addressed to “the resistance axis,” which includes groups such as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, the Yemeni Houthi movement and Palestinian factions.
According to Lebanese international affairs scholar, Hussam Mater, Nasrallah’s statements may indeed resonate on a broader regional scale.
“Nasrallah is viewed by the resistance axis as a leader who enjoys the right to decision-making,” Matar said in a phone interview with Al-Monitor.
These factors, he said, could enable Hezbollah to “determine an integral part of the agenda of the resistance axis.”
Furthermore, Hezbollah’s leader made it clear that any action taken by Iran’s allies against the United States would be separate and independent from action taken by Iran itself.
“Where, how and when the Iranians respond is their business and their decision, but this does not relieve the resistance axis of its responsibilities,” Nasrallah said in his speech, adding, “If any resistance faction in the region decides to carry out fair punishment, that would be its own decision.”
Iran, for its part, has already retaliated for the assassination of Soleimani.
On Jan. 8, Iran launched over a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops.
The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) described the attack as “hard revenge” for the killing of Soleimani, who was part of the IRGC. No casualties were recorded.
If Nasrallah’s words are translated into action, that would mean that the US military would have to also brace itself for attacks from Iran’s allies.
Hezbollah, for its part, could play a major role in targeting US troops in Syria.
At the same time, it is unclear if Nasrallah’s statements about ousting US forces from the region were in reference only to Iraq and Syria, or to the broader region to include Arab Gulf countries.
According to retired Lebanese army Brig. Gen. Elias Farhat, Nasrallah was only making reference to the American troop presence in Iraq and Syria.
“Hezbollah cannot expel US forces from the Gulf countries,” Farhat said in a phone interview with Al-Monitor, saying that the Lebanese movement “lacks the military capabilities to carry out such missions.”
He further added that “only states like Iran itself could attempt to do this.”