On December 12, 2019, Morteza Ghorbani, a senior advisor in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), threatened that Iran could attack Israel from Lebanese soil. Responding to the Israeli foreign minister's remark that an Israeli attack on Iran was "an option," Ghorbani stated: "If the Zionist regime makes [even] the smallest mistake vis-à-vis Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground, from Lebanon, without having to launch a single missile or any [other] device from Iran... God knows that if, one night, Iran's leader [Ali Khamenei] will order a missile attack [on Israel], those Zionists will all surrender... Today, the hearts and spirits of the Yemeni, Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Gazan peoples are with Iran."
Ghorbani's statement evoked outrage among many Lebanese officials. A conspicuous response was that of Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, considered to be close to Hizbullah. He said that, if Ghorbani had indeed made the statement, it was very saddening and was an infringement of Lebanon's sovereignty. Other officials said that Lebanon was not a no-man's-land to be used by Iran, or a conduit for relaying IRGC threats to other countries. Describing the statement as a violation of Lebanon's honor and dignity, some called to demand an explanation for Ghorbani's statement from the Iranian ambassador and even to expel the ambassador.
Criticism of Ghorbani's remarks was also expressed in Lebanese press articles, which condemned not only Ghorbani but also Lebanese officials, for failing to respond to such Iranian statements and allowing Iran to trample Lebanon's sovereignty.
In response to the uproar, IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif issued a denial, stating that Ghorbani's remarks had been "distorted and misconstrued by the media." Sharif added that "Ghorbani does not currently serve as an IRGC advisor but serves in other capacities in the armed forces."
The following are excerpts from some of the Lebanese responses to Ghorbani's statement.
Morteza Ghorbani (source: Tehran Times, Iran)
Lebanese Officials: Ghorbani's 'Unacceptable' Statement Is A Violation Of Lebanon's Sovereignty; Lebanon Is Not A Conduit For Conveying IRGC Messages
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab tweeted on December 10: "Assuming Ghorbani... indeed made the statements attributed to him, they are very saddening and unacceptable, and are an infringement of the sovereignty of Lebanon, which has friendly relations with Iran. Lebanon's independent decision-making must not be harmed in any way."
Elias Bou Saab's tweet
Lebanese Media Minister Jamal Al-Jarrah, of the Al-Mustaqbal faction, tweeted: "The statements attributed to the Iranian official, about using Lebanon as a launch-pad for a regional war, are irresponsible and arrogant, and are an infringement of the sovereignty of the Lebanese state and people." In another tweet he wrote: "Iran is free to defend itself as it pleases, but Lebanon is neither a mailbox for IRGC [messages to the rest of the world] nor an arena to be used by any other country. The Iranian official's remarks are completely ludicrous."
Lebanese former minister Nohad Machnouk, also from the Al-Mustaqbal faction, tweeted: "The days when some people thought little of using Lebanon as a battlefield for the Iranian project [for exporting its revolution] are over. Had the Iranian official given us and himself one lesson in resistance [by waging it] from his own country, instead of pitching the conflict [into the Lebanese arena] and placing the Lebanese people at the forefront of his regional project, we would have been understanding, although we still would have opposed [letting Iran wage its battles from Lebanon]."
Nohad Machnouk 's tweet
In another tweet, he wrote: "We are not a human shield for any regional project [for exporting its revolution]. This [Iranian] official must realize that Lebanon has changed, and it is not impressed with his statements. On the contrary, it will stand like a solid wall against his actions. Lebanon is not, and will never be, a province of Iran."
Former Lebanese minister Ashraf Al-Rifi, a Sunni who opposes Hizbullah, attacked the Lebanese authorities for letting Iran do as it pleases in Lebanon: "Who gave the Iranian regime permission to be so insolent and treat Lebanon like a no-man's-land? Ghorbani wants to retaliate against Israel from Lebanon, and not from Iran. If the [Lebanese] government had any self-respect, it would have expelled the Iranian ambassador." He added: "[Lebanon's] Foreign Ministry has so far issued no response to Ghorbani's statement. [Defense] Minister Bou Saab's position is commendable, but it is not sufficient. An official position must be taken, because what was published [i.e., Ghorbani's statement] is grave, and threatens Lebanon's sovereignty and honor, as well as the [international] efforts to extend it economic aid. Lebanon will not be rescued as long as it remains under Iranian patronage."
Kataeb Party MP: Decisions Of War And Peace Must Not Be Up To Hizbullah And Iran
MP Nadim Gemayel, of the Kataeb party, tweeted: "As a Lebanese citizen I demand [to hear] a clear response to [Ghorbani's] statement from: 1. [Hizbullah Secretary-General] Hassan Nasrallah; 2. President [Michel] 'Aoun; 3. Interim Prime Minister [Saad Al-Hariri]... We will not accept [a reality whereby] decisions of war and peace are in the hands of Hassan Nasrallah or Khamenei. We are a sovereign country, not a proxy state."
Nadim Gemayel's tweet
MP Michel Moawad, head of the Independence Movement, which is part of the March 14 Forces, tweeted: "We wonder why [the attack on Israel] should come from Lebanon, rather than from Iran or the [Syrian] Golan? We refuse to let Lebanon be treated as a no-man's-land. The statement of this Iranian official proves once again that we must formulate a defense strategy directed by the Lebanese state, which has the exclusive authority to defend itself and its citizens."
MP Muhammad Al-Hajjar of the Al-Mustaqbal faction tweeted: "I strongly condemn the statement of Iranian General Morteza Ghorbani. It constitutes a blatant violation of Lebanon's sovereignty and an insistence on treating Lebanon as an arena that serves the interests of Iran's expansion plans. I call to [summon] the Iranian ambassador in Beirut and demand an explanation for this statement."
Head Of 'Movement For Change': Iran Is Dragging Lebanon Into A Confrontation With Israel
Elie Mahfoud, head of the Movement for Change, which is part of the Mustaqbal faction, wrote: "Iran is continuing its insolence towards Lebanon... Here we have General Morteza Ghorbani, an advisor to the commander of the IRGC, saying that, if Israel makes the smallest mistake vis-à-vis Iran, [the latter] will level Tel Aviv from Lebanon, instead of fighting it from [its] own territory... As if we haven't suffered enough due to Iran's financing of the armed [Hizbullah] militia that receives orders according to the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran, [Iran now] continues its manipulations that affect our stability and [expose] Lebanon to Israeli aggression. I refer Ghorbani's statement to the Lebanese authorities, and expect to hear an official position regarding this dangerous invasion of Lebanon."
Elie Mahfoud's tweet
Criticism of Ghorbani's statement was also voiced by Christian MPs from the Strong Lebanon faction, led by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, an ally of Hizbullah. MP Farid Boustany tweeted: "If it is true [that Ghorbani made these statements], they harm Lebanon's sovereignty on the one hand, and the might of the resistance [Hizbullah] on the other." Another MP from this faction, Antoine Pano, tweeted: "The disturbing statement attributed to... Ghorbani is a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty and the sanctity of its soil. We will not allow Lebanon to be used by any country as a platform for settling its scores."
Lebanese Columnist: Iran Sees Lebanon As Nothing But A 'Missile Launcher-Pad', And This Is The Fault Of The Lebanese Leadership
As stated, criticism of Ghorbani's statement was also expressed in Lebanese press articles. Journalist Yousuf Bazzi wrote in the daily Al-Mudun that Ghorbani's statements are unsurprising, since they reflect what has been known for years: that Iran sees Lebanon as nothing more than an arena from which to attack Israel. Lebanon, he added, accepts this and lets Iran govern its fate – and the ones to blame for this are not Iran or Hizbullah, but rather the Lebanese leaders who allow it. He wrote: "Whoever [expresses] surprise at Ghorbani's statements... is either naïve or a liar... These statements are not new, but are [merely] a reminder of the situation on the ground. As far as Iran is concerned, Lebanon is a kind of missile launch pad. Not a state, a nation or a homeland. A missile launch pad and nothing more. So much so that the commander of the local IRGC division [i.e., Hizbullah], Hassan Nasrallah, boasted in his latest speech that he has so many missiles he does not know where to put them. [Moreover,] several months ago he repeated numerous times that he is at the command of [Iranian] leader [Ali Khamenei] and will go to war if Iran is attacked...
"General Ghorbani's confidence in Lebanon's willingness to avenge Israel's [attacks on] Iran stems not only from Nasrallah's complete loyalty and submission to wilayat al-faqih [i.e., the rule of the jurisprudent, Khamenei], but also from the submission of the Lebanese state to Nasrallah's party, which is part of the IRGC – submission that can no longer be concealed or camouflaged...
"A state whose fate is decided by an IRGC commander known for killing his own people – over 1,000 [Iranian protesters] killed in three days and thousands detained and tortured – and who is engaged in the criminal and cold-blooded murder of young Iraqi [protesters] while also managing an extermination campaign against the Syrian people – [such as state] is not fit to be called a state...
"When it comes to the complete violation of the principle of [our] national sovereignty, neither Iran nor the IRCG are to blame. Nor is it the fault of Hizbullah, which lives in peace with its faith in Khomeini's empire. The blame lies... with the official representatives of the Lebanese state, especially those who, in 2016, formulated the so-called arrangement [according to which Michel 'Aoun was appointed president and Saad Al-Hariri was appointed prime minister], an arrangement that was a carte blanche for Iran to govern Lebanon and its fate..."
Lebanese Columnist: Ghorbani's Statement May Bring A Devastating War Upon Lebanon
Journalist Ahmad Al-Zou'bi wrote in the Al-Liwa daily: "This is not the first time the IRGC has interfered in Lebanon's political affairs... Iran regards Lebanon as part of its empire and as an arena for displaying its regional influence, [and] considers Hizbullah as the jewel in its crown. It [also] has important means, interests and considerations in the Land of the Cedars that are not merely military...
"General Ghorbani's statements constitute a blatant act of aggression against [Lebanon's] national sovereignty. Lebanon can no longer bear to serve – both metaphorically and in practice – as a mailbox for Iran in its dialogue with the U.S. and the West, or as an arena for Iranian score-settling with various parties. The government's silence, and its failure to speak out against these recurring Iranian positions that disrespect Lebanon's sovereignty, is disturbing...
"The gravest aspect of the Iranian official's statement is that it prompts and supplies an excuse for, or drags [Lebanon] into, a painful Israeli attack... by creating reasons, justifications and [suitable] circumstances for such an attack. If such an attack takes place, it will eliminate any chance of seeing the country get back on its feet, for it is already on the brink of bankruptcy... [Moreover,] Lebanon's relations with its Arab surroundings and its friends around the world are not at their best, for well-known reasons. [So] a war, if it breaks out, will have devastating consequences. We should keep in mind that nobody in the Arab or international community will be willing to come to Lebanon's rescue and to rebuild it if another war, like the one in 2006, breaks out."
 Mizanonline.com, December 9, 2019.
 ISNA (Iran), December 11, 2019.
 Twitter.com/EliasBouSaab, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/aljarrahjamal, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/NohadMachnouk, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/Ashraf_Rifi, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/nadimgemayel, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/michelmoawad, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/DrMohamadHajjar, December 11, 2019.
 Twitter.com/MahfoudElie, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/FaridBoustany, December 10, 2019.
 Twitter.com/PanoAntoine, December 10, 2019.
 For Nasrallah's statements, see alahednews.com.lb, November 11, 2019.
 For Nasrallah's statements, see alahednews.com.lb, September 10, 2019.
 Al-Mudun (Lebanon), December 12, 2019.
 Al-Liwa (Lebanon), December 11, 2019.