Hezbollah would not have abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on July 12 had it known that the action would lead to war in Lebanon, the movement's secretary general Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview on Lebanon's NTV yesterday.
"We did not think that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," he said.
Nasrallah also said he did not believe there would be a second round of fighting with Israel, and stated that Hezbollah would adhere to the cease-fire despite what he called Israeli provocation.
The interview with the TV station that had supported Hezbollah during the war was held at Nasrallah's hideout, and according to the female reporter that did the interview, she had been rushed to the location on very short notice.
This was the longest interview Nasrallah had granted since the outbreak of fighting and he took advantage of the opportunity to discuss at length his general outlook on developments in southern Lebanon.
The Hezbollah leader said that the events that followed the abduction of the soldiers were also unexpected, and added that the IDF operation in which a tank entered Lebanon and was destroyed by a mine complicated the situation with the deaths of more Israeli soldiers.
He reiterated the Hezbollah claim that Israel planned to carry out an offensive against the organization in September, and explained that the decision to attack Hezbollah immediately following the raid forced the IDF into a premature operation that had been stripped of its element of surprise.
Prisoner swap talks underway
Nasrallah also commented that negotiations for the release of the abducted IDF soldiers have already begun.
"Contacts recently began for negotiations," he stated. "It seems that Italy is trying to get involved in the subject. The United Nations is interested and the negotiations would be through [Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih] Beri."
According to the Egyptian state-run daily Al-Ahram, Israel and Hezbollah have agreed to terms on a prisoner exchange.
Senior Egyptian officials are quoted in the paper as saying that the exchange will be mediated by Germany and is to take place in two to three weeks' time.
Al-Ahram also reported that once the exchange with Hezbollah is completed, the movement would signal to the Palestinians that they can strike a deal for the release of Gilad Shalit.
However, following his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said yesterday that Abbas is not "very optimistic" on the prospects of securing a deal soon for the release of Shalit.
Meanwhile, Benny Regev, brother of the abducted soldier Eldad Regev, said in response to Nasrallah's announcement: "I don't believe that there are any negotiations being conducted right now. I believe that Nasrallah's announcements are a call for Israel's government to begin talks with Hezbollah through mediators, and I think that Israel's government must comply."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to visit Lebanon in the coming days for meeting with Lebanese officials. The mandate of UNIFIL is expected to be the main subject of the meetings.
Annan will be accompanied by envoy Terje Larsen, whom Nasrallah accused of "serving Israeli interests."
Responding to a question concerning whether he will meet Annan, Nasrallah smiled and said that it would be difficult to bring the official to the site of the interview secretly, like the reporter was shuttled there. Nasrallah added that he was unlikely to emerge in public in the foreseeable future.
The Hezbollah leader warned Israel not to target any of Hezbollah's leadership "for the health and benefit of the Israelis."
He also explained that a 15-member council of political and military leaders in the group makes the decisions, and added that every member of this forum knows Israel well and follows what goes on in the country.
He said that due to the efforts of Israel to reconstruct the North, it is unlikely that there are plans for another IDF offensive. However, he warned that as long as IDF soldiers are deployed in Lebanese territory, Hezbollah retained the right to attack Israel.
Nasrallah described the main success of Hezbollah as being the prevention of Israel's advancement any further into Lebanon, and he said that the movement's fighters are stationed in positions close to the border with Israel.
It would be impossible, he added, to disarm the groups in southern Lebanon since most of its fighters there are residents of the area.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now