By Wassim Seif al-Din
Hezbollah now represents a "highly-trained, heavily-armed standing army" that no longer depends solely on guerrilla-warfare tactics, according to Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem.
Qassem made the assertion at a Tuesday meeting held at Beirut’s Center of Civilization for Islamic Thought Development, reiterating the claim in a Wednesday Facebook post.
He went on to say that a Hezbollah military parade held last week in Syria’s western town of Al-Qaseer -- in which the Shia group showcased its martial prowess -- was "a clear message to everyone".
"There is a high level of coordination between us and the Syrian leadership," Qassem said. "Last week’s military parade was part of our field training."
"If we hadn’t intervened in Syria, the terrorists [i.e., Syria’s armed anti-regime opposition] would have entered all parts of Lebanon," he added.
Hezbollah’s ongoing intervention in Syria, Qassem said, "is no longer the subject of debate in Lebanese circles".
"The resistance," he added in reference to Hezbollah, "does not want to invest its military power in any internal conflict in Lebanon."
"Despite Hezbollah’s power, we are engaged in political and electoral activity [in Lebanon] like other Lebanese [political] parties," he said.
Qassem went on to describe Michel Aoun, who assumed the Lebanese presidency late last month, as a "strategic ally".
"He protects our national and public choices but has his own program and team," Qassem said. "We trust him and agree with him on many issues."
On the formation of Lebanon’s next government, Qassem said: "We asked Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri [leader of Lebanon’s Shia Amal movement] to negotiate the formation of the incoming government."
"We are still in the process of holding general discussions over the distribution of ministerial portfolios," he added. "We hope the talks are speedily concluded and that the new government is quickly drawn up."
"We [Hezbollah] are part of the Lebanese state and are deeply concerned about Lebanese issues," Qassem said.
"But we cannot change the equation alone. We adhere to the Taif agreement and have no desire to change or modify it," he stressed, in reference to the 1989 agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war.
- Army denial
In a related development, the Lebanese army in a Tuesday statement denied that any of its military vehicles had taken part in last week’s Hezbollah parade in western Syria.
The army statement was issued after U.S. officials vowed to investigate the reported appearance of American armored vehicles in the parade.
Held on the occasion of Hezbollah's Martyr's Day (marked on Nov. 11 of each year), last week’s parade was the first of its kind to be seen in Syria since Hezbollah entered the conflict more than three years ago on the side of Syria’s Assad regime.