BEIRUT: The war of words between Hezbollah and the Future Movement over the conflict in Yemen escalated Thursday, a day before a much-anticipated speech by the Shiite party’s leader to tackle the situation in the Gulf state.
But Speaker Nabih Berri downplayed the ongoing diatribes between the rival groups, telling his visitors Thursday that both Riyadh and Tehran had informed him they are keen on the continuation of the Hezbollah-Future dialogue.
Ahmad Hariri, the secretary-general of the Future Movement, launched a scathing attack against Hezbollah and Iran over their interference in Yemen, accusing the Islamic Republic of committing crimes in the Arab world.
He expressed surprise that Hezbollah criticized his group for defending Saudi Arabia, “when it is involved from head to toe in the battle of defending the project of Iranian domination and is acting, in word and deed, as the military wing of Iran in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.”
“It is strange that Hezbollah allows itself to fight and commit the most dangerous acts away from Lebanon’s interests and national consensus and wants others to remain silent on Iranian crimes in Arab states,” he said at a gathering of clans in the northern district of Akkar.
Hariri said that the Saudi-led “Decisive Storm” military operation in Yemen had revealed Iran’s hatred toward Arabs and demonstrated that it was far weaker than Arab nations.
“The Decisive Storm was launched to defend legitimacy in Yemen and will not remain only an ‘Arab Awakening’ limited to Yemen,” Hariri said. “God willing, it will pave the way for decisive storms which will [show] Iran and others that Arabs’ resorting to peace and dialogue in previous years did not reflect weakness ... and that confronting Iranian extremism is essential in facing terrorism made by Iran and exported to our Arab countries.”
After adopting a calm political rhetoric over the past months as a result of rounds of dialogue, rivals Hezbollah and the Future Movement have been trading barbs in the media since the Saudi-led military operation against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen began last month.
The Future Movement hailed the operation as a necessary step to end growing Iranian influence in Yemen, while Hezbollah slammed it as an interference in Yemeni affairs and an assault on Yemeni people.
The Iranian Embassy joined the war of words Thursday, indirectly responding to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who lashed out at Tehran in a speech Tuesday.
“Some of these officials spoke about the state of Beirut, this city known in the world to be the capital of culture and literature. These qualities require that those who bear them clearly distinguish between the benighted ideology producing terrorism and extremism and between the ideology interested in helping countries and people who want to preserve their rights and security against assaults by Zionists and armed terrorist groups,” a statement by the embassy said.
The Iranian Embassy, however, stressed that stances by these Lebanese officials did not reflect that of the “friendly and brotherly Lebanese state.”
Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc blasted a U.N. Security Council decision to impose an arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthis, describing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen as a “strategic sin.”
“The catastrophic results and consequences on the stability of Yemen and the region have confirmed that the Saudi regime’s aggression against Yemen is a historic and strategic sin,” the statement said.
“No unfair international decision could erase this fact or end the severe crisis in Yemen, even if issued under Chapter 7.”
The bloc reiterated that the only solution to the Yemeni crisis was through ending the Saudi “aggression” and launching dialogue between all Yemeni groups.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will comment on developments in Yemen in a speech Friday.
Meanwhile, former MP Ghattas Khoury, an aide of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, visited Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
Speaking to The Daily Star, an FPM source said the two discussed the potential extension of the terms of senior security officials.
Aoun strongly opposes extension, calling for the appointment of successors for head of Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, whose terms expire in June and September respectively.
Separately, the U.N. envoy to Lebanon Sigrid Kaag said after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai that she would press lawmakers to elect a president soon to end the 11-month-old vacuum.
“The patriarch underlined to us his grave concern about the protracted vacancy in the office of the presidency soon marking a one-year vacuum,” said Kaag, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, after meeting Rai at noon in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite Church.
“We shared this concern, specifically that the 11-month stalemate in the election of the president of the republic is undermining Lebanon’s ability to address the security, economic and social challenges.”
“We committed to sending a strong message to Lebanese leaders ... to act responsibly and put Lebanon’s stability and national interests ahead of partisan politics,” she said.