Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that Hezbollah is threatening the stability of Lebanon and the wider Middle East and said the group should withdraw from foreign conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
Tillerson, speaking at a news conference in Beirut alongside Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said the Shia political, social and military group, “uses terrorism to advance its political agenda inside Lebanon, across the region, and around the world.”
He urged Lebanese leaders to uphold Lebanon’s commitment to disassociating itself from foreign conflicts. “The international community expects all parties in Lebanon to fulfill this commitment, including Hezbollah, which should withdraw and cease its activities abroad in order to help reduce tensions in the region,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson was the just latest US official to highlight the global threat they see emanating from Hezbollah.
Speaking to lawmakers about global threats on Tuesday, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, pointed to Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy and said that “Iran and Hezbollah remain a continuing terrorist threat to US interests and partners worldwide.”
On Thursday, Adm. Kurt Tidd, the commander of US Southern Command, fleshed out the global nature of Hezbollah’s operations, telling lawmakers about the group’s aggressive presence in South America.
“They have been in this hemisphere for awhile, engaged largely in criminal activities supporting their terrorist activities abroad,” Tidd told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They are the A team that has been mentioned from time to time. And so we’re watching what they’re doing, working with our partners in the intelligence community within our country, and then increasingly with partner nations to be aware of what they are doing and to not be surprised.”
And Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told a Security Council meeting on Syria on Wednesday that Hezbollah was planning on entrenching themselves in Syria.
“The Assad regime has become a front for Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies to advance the irresponsible and dangerous agenda for the Middle East,” Haley said. Pointing to the siege starvation of towns and the bombings of hospitals and schools, she charged that “advisers from Iran and Hezbollah are helping direct those atrocities.”
Tillerson, in his remarks with Hariri, said that Hezbollah had to be constrained for Lebanon to achieve stability and security.
“Lebanon will never be truly strong and stable as long as Hezbollah continues to act outside the confines of the Lebanese government,” Tillerson said. “Its provocations at the behest of its regional masters like Iran ultimately put the Lebanese people at risk.”
Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad. US and Saudi officials have also accused Hezbollah of undermining stability in Iraq and of arming Houthi rebels in Yemen, a charge Hezbollah leaders have denied.
“It is unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government,” Tillerson said. “The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.” The US, Tillerson said, “has considered Hezbollah a terrorist organization for over two decades.”
“Hezbollah is not just a concern for the United States,” Tillerson said. “The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions, its growing arsenal, and its entanglement in regional conflicts threaten the security of Lebanon and have destabilizing effects in the region.”
CNN’s Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report.