Top officials in Beirut reacted with outrage on Tuesday after comments by an adviser to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threatening to attack Israel from Lebanese territory.
"If Israel makes a mistake, even the smallest one, against Iran, we will flatten Tel Aviv into dirt from Lebanon," Morteza Ghorbani, a senior adviser to the IRGC Commander Hossein Salami, told Iranian media agency Mizan on Monday evening, Lebanese media said.
Mr Ghorbani appeared to be referring to Israel's arch enemy and Tehran's main proxy in the Levant, Hezbollah. The powerful Iran-backed Shiite Lebanese party fought a bloody guerrilla campaign against Israel in south Lebanon, forcing their hasty retreat in 2000, and has since fought a devastating 34-day war in 2006 as well as a number of smaller skirmishes. The group possesses an estimated 120,000 rockets, according to a 2017 report published by the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank.
The 2006 war killed more than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 121 Israelis soldiers as well as 46 civilians.
Caretaker Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Bou Saab, a member of the Hezbollah-allied Christian majority Free Patriotic Movement, tweeted that Mr Ghorbani’s comments were “unfortunate and unacceptable and infringed on the sovereignty of Lebanon”.
He said that Iran, which has a “friendly relationship” with Lebanon, should not “compromise the independence of Lebanese decisions in any way”.
Caretaker Information Minister, Jamal Jarrah, a member of the prime minister’s Sunni Future Movement — traditionally an opponent of Hezbollah — tweeted that “Iran can defend however it wants, but Lebanon is not a mailbox for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is not an arena for foreign use by any country. The words of the Iranian official are completely rejected.”
Political parties in Lebanon are historically supported by foreign countries, with Shiite groups generally receiving support from Iran and Syria, Sunni parties from the Gulf and Christians from the West.
The Lebanese are "not human shields for any project in the region," said former interior minister Nohad Machnouk, also a member of the Future Movement. "The Iranian official must know that Lebanon has changed and will not be affected by his words."
Nadim Gemayel, leader of the Christian Kataeb party, which is staunchly anti-Hezbollah and is not represented in government, tweeted that he demanded an “explicit position” from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
As yet, none of them have commented.
Hezbollah, which built its identity on fighting Israel, is popular among some segments of society in Lebanon where it paints itself as a defender of the country.
Like its Iranian and Syrian allies, the group has criticised the massive anti-government protests that started in Beirut on October 17.
It accuses the participants of being manipulated by foreign countries, a claim which they reject.
But the party has been lumped together with all the major political blocs being criticised by protesters who are demanding major reforms, a new type of governance and an economic and infrastructural overhaul.