Jan 5, 2020

Hezbollah leader says only U.S. military should be targeted in retaliatory attacks

Hezbollah supporters watch the movement's leader Hassan Nasrallah deliver a speech on a screen in Beirut, Jan. 5. Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Iran-allied Hezbollah movement, said during a speech Sunday that only U.S. military assets, not U.S. civilians, should be targeted in retaliatory attacks for the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, according to the Washington Post.

"It is the U.S. military that killed Haj Qasem, and they must pay the price."
— Hassan Nasrallah, using an honorific for Soleimani

Why it matters: President Trump tweeted Saturday that the U.S. military has 52 Iranian targets in the event that Iran or its proxies strike American assets, including cultural sites. The threat prompted outrage from Iranian officials, who accused Trump of advocating war crimes.

What he's saying: Nasrallah said targeting non-military Americans would benefit Trump, according to WashPost.

  • "There are many U.S. civilians in our region — engineers, businessmen, journalists. We will not touch them. Touching any civilian anywhere in the world will only serve Trump’s policy."
  • When calling for retribution, "we do not mean the American people," he said. "The true, just retribution for those who conducted this assassination is an institution, which is the U.S. military. We will launch a battle against those killers, those criminals."

Between the lines: During the speech, Nasrallah avoided mentioning Lebanon as a potential site to launch retaliation attacks and distanced the country from Iran, saying "we are not tools to be directed by Iran."

The big picture: By interfering in a conflict between Iran and the U.S., Hezbollah could squander the political benefits it will gain from forming a new Lebanese government with a Hezbollah nominee as prime minister.

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Iran's proxies in the Middle East

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Behrouz Mehri/Getty Staff, Anadolu Agency/Getty Contributor, Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Contributor

Iran has built up a vast network of proxies through which it wields influence across the Middle East, and which could take action to stoke tensions between the U.S. and Iran over the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Why it matters: The political parties and militias that are influenced by and act on behalf of Iran likely pose a more direct threat to U.S. targets than Iran itself, the Washington Post writes.

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White House informs Congress of Soleimani strike, Trump warns U.S. will hit Iran if attacked

Trump speaks at a Evangelicals for Trump Coalition event, Jan. 3. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The White House has notified Congress of the drone strike that killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, fulfilling its duties under the War Powers Act.

Why it matters: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the notification "raises more questions than it answers." Both Democrats and Republicans — including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — have criticized President Trump for not obtaining congressional approval for this week's strike.

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Iranian military adviser says U.S. targeting cultural sites would be a war crime

Hossein Dehghan, 2017. Photo: Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

Hossein Dehghan, the military adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told CNN in an interview Sunday that Iran will target U.S. military sites in response to the killing of Qasem Soleimani, one its most influential commanders.

Why it matters: President Trump tweeted Saturday that the U.S. will attack 52 sites that are "important" to Iranian culture if the country strikes American assets. United Nations resolution 2347 makes it a war crime to target cultural heritage and religious sites.

Go deeperArrowJan 5, 2020