Hezbollah’s Leader Stops Short of Calling to Expand Gaza War

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, told his followers on Friday that the group’s battles with Israel along its northern border had tied up Israeli forces, giving a boost to Hamas in its fight with Israel in Gaza.

People across the Middle East had been anticipating Mr. Nasrallah’s speech — his first public comments since Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 — for indications of whether Hezbollah would pursue a full-on war with Israel, which would be likely to spark a regional conflagration. Hezbollah, a Hamas ally that is also supported by Iran, is committed to the destruction of Israel.

Although Mr. Nasrallah did not discount the possibility of a wider war that could draw in Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias across the region, his general message was that Hezbollah was already doing enough.

“Yes, we expose ourselves to danger, it is true,” he said. “Some in Lebanon say that we are taking a risk. It’s true. But this risk is part of a beneficial, correct calculation.”

Large screens were put up in locations throughout Lebanon for the speech by Mr. Nasrallah. Thousands of his supporters gathered to watch at the largest site, in Beirut’s southern suburbs, which was decorated with Hezbollah and Palestinian flags. Celebratory gunfire rang out when he appeared onscreen, and supporters chanted, “We are here for you, Nasrallah.”

As the war and the rising death toll among Palestinian civilians have heightened tensions in the Middle East, officials from across the region and beyond have been closely watching Hezbollah for signs that the violence could spread. Hezbollah, like Hamas, has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries.

Early in the speech, Mr. Nasrallah said of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel that no battle was more justified from a religious and moral perspective “than the battle with these Zionists.” He suggested that a “great event” had been needed to restore the Palestinian cause as “the number one issue in the world.”

Mr. Nasrallah lashed out at the United States for its staunch support for Israel, accusing President Biden of dishonesty in telling Israel that it had the right to defend itself but had to respect human rights. “Empty talk! Hypocrisy!” Mr. Nasrallah boomed.

Hezbollah is a more powerful and sophisticated military force than Hamas, with tens of thousands of trained fighters, an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and a stock of precision guided missiles that can strike sensitive targets deep inside Israel. Military analysts believe that the group may also have other military capabilities that it has yet to unveil.

Mr. Nasrallah is a highly respected figure inside the “axis of resistance,” a network of Iranian-backed militias in several Arab countries that share an anti-American and anti-Israeli ideology and have come to coordinate their operations more closely in recent years. A decision by Hezbollah to launch a full-on war with Israel would likely encourage attacks by its allies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

As the Gaza death toll from heavy Israeli airstrikes and ground incursions that began last week has risen into the high thousands, Hezbollah and Israel have clashed along the Israel-Lebanon border, targeting each other’s positions and killing combatants on both sides. But analysts say that Hezbollah and Israel so far appear to be calibrating their actions to avoid setting off a broader war.