Nasrallah: Lebanon War Crushed U.S. Vision for 'New Middle East'

Hezbollah leader in televised speech says supporters do not fear Israel which is 'weaker than a cobweb.'

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told a mass rally in the southern town of Bint Jbail late Saturday that the Second Lebanon War left the U.S. vision of a 'new Middle East' in shambles, and that his group is 'ready to strike Israel at any time'.

"We will not wait for anyone to defend us. We will defend ourselves and our country," the guerrilla group's leader said.

"We possess and we will continue to possess rockets that can hit any area in occupied Palestine if Israel attacks Lebanon," he said.

Nasrallah did not personally attend the rally, but his speech was relayed to the crowd on a giant screen set up in the town's main square.

Located near Lebanon's southern border, Bint Jbail saw during the Second Lebanon War heavy house-to-house fighting between troops from the Israel Defense Forces' Golani Brigade and Hezbollah guerillas.

The 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah ended Aug. 14 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

Nasrallah said the guerrilla group would never be at peace with Israel. "It is impossible to live with a back-stabbing enemy on our border, who has been assaulting us ever since it was born," he said.

The Shi'ite group's leader also echoed his famous "spider's web" speech he delivered in 2000 after Israel's pullout from South Lebanon. He said Saturday Israel is "weaker than a spider's web" and stressed that his supporters do not fear it.

Nasrallah retracted his earlier statement that he refrained from driving around Beirut due to fears for his personal security. He had said this last week in an interview with Al Jazeera.

In the speech Saturday, he stated that he does in fact travel freely around the Lebanese capital, and therefore there has been no Israeli achievement in limiting his movements.

He said the guerrillas' steadfastness in front-line villages had led to the failure of the Israeli attack and subsequently prevented Israel from achieving any of its declared objectives, namely destroying Hezbollah's military structure and securing the release of two abducted IDF soldiers.

"The (Israeli) enemy has even failed to return the two prisoners," he said.

He dismissed unnamed pressures to release the two IDF soldiers, whose seizure triggered last year's war.

Amid Lebanon's growing political and sectarian difficulties, Nasrallah called for national unity and said his group would seek harmony among the Lebanese regardless of their sects, movements or origins. Hezbollah detractors say the group triggered the current political crisis by stepping out of a coalition government.

Nasrallah's repeated references to a new Middle East was an allusion to comments by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called during last year's war for such a concept, which she described as a new era of democracy and peace in the region.

Hezbollah and other American detractors say the U.S. vision aimed at reinforcing Israel.

"There is no new Middle East," Nasrallah said in his address, broadcast live by Hezbollah's Al-Manar television. "It's gone with the wind."

Nasrallah charged that last year's war was the result of a U.S. decision. He said the United States provided Israel with political and material support to launch the war on Lebanon.

"There was American pressure on Israel to continue its war until the desired objectives were achieved," he said.

The Bush administration has stood by Israel's efforts to go after Hezbollah. But administration officials have also tried to find ways to support the fragile Lebanese democracy.

Celebratory gunshots and fireworks erupted in Beirut's pro-Hezbollah southern suburbs for several minutes as Nasrallah talked.

The rally was organized by the Shi'ite Muslim group to mark the first anniversary of the war with Israel, which Hezbollah says it won and calls a divine victory.

The war erupted on July 12, 2006, when Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an IDF patrol, killing three soldiers and abducting two.

Israel then invaded southern Lebanon, unleashing a massive bombing campaign that shook its fragile political system.

The offensive killed more than 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, according to tallies by the Lebanese government, human rights groups, and The Associated Press.

Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel during the war, which killed 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians.