Israel sends warning messages to Lebanon over Hezbollah
LONDON - Israel’s military operation near the Lebanese border is meant as a warning to the Lebanese state to prompt it to rein in Hezbollah, Israeli officials and security analysts said.
The Israeli military said December 4 that it began an operation to destroy tunnels that could be used by Hezbollah to infiltrate Israeli territory. It did not elaborate on details of the operation.
Statements by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s military establishment directed blame at Hezbollah and the Lebanese government.
“I have a message for the people of Lebanon: Hezbollah is putting your lives in danger,” Netanyahu said. “They are sacrificing your well-being to serve the aggressive purposes of Iran.”
'We hold the Lebanese government accountable'
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the Israeli military “holds the Lebanese government responsible for all activities perpetrated in Lebanon towards Israel.”
Another Israeli military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio: “We see this as a very serious situation that hurts Lebanon and the citizens of Lebanon, and we hold the Lebanese government accountable.”
Manelis said the tunnel construction is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, passed following the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006. He accused the Lebanese government of not being in control of its own borders. “We have indisputable proof that the Lebanese government is not in control of their border. Iranian money is behind these tunnels, he said.
The military operation was announced hours after Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels to discuss regional tensions, including the border operation.
“Netanyahu’s trip to Brussels apparently had two components: coordinating with the Americans regarding action against the tunnels in the north and conveying another sharp warning to the Lebanese government — try to rein in Hezbollah and avoid an escalation on the border,” wrote Amos Harel in Haaretz.
150,000 Hezbollah missiles
Israel is not only concerned about the tunnels, analysts said, they also have mentioned Hezbollah’s suspected guided missile programme.
“Israel has for months been warning against Iran and Hezbollah converting some of the nearly 150,000 missiles believed to be stockpiled by the organisation in Lebanon into precision-guided missiles by refitting them with GPS systems,” wrote Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post.
Israeli officials said the operation, labelled “Northern Shield,” is taking place inside Israeli territory but they did not rule out extending to the Lebanese side of the border.
“We have to prepare for all scenarios of neutralising the tunnels. Some of [the scenarios] will not be in our territory and this is something we are preparing for,” said Manelis.
Israeli officials said the operation was expected to last several weeks but analysts said there is a possibility that it might be followed by a larger-scale offensive.
“Israeli security analysts say that the decision to expose the Hezbollah attack tunnel is a precursor to a larger Israeli operation to remove the threat posed by the precision missiles being developed by the Lebanese terror group together with their Iranian sponsors,” reported the Times of Israel.
Israel restricted in Syria
Observers said that since the accidental downing of a Russian plane in Syria in September — by Syrian anti-aircraft fire that mistook the Russian jet for an Israeli one — Israel has faced restrictions by Moscow in attacking Hezbollah or Iranian targets in Syria.
Russia gave a conditional approval of the Israeli operation against the Hezbollah tunnels. “No doubt that Israel has the right to protect its national security, including to prevent the illegal entry of anyone into the country. At the same time, we hope that the actions taken for this purpose will not conflict with UNSC Resolution 1701,” Russia’s Embassy in Israel said on Twitter.
'No one to pressure Hezbollah' in Lebanon
Israeli pressure on Lebanon is likely to be limited as the country has not formed a new government.
“Israel has been trying recently to convey aggressive messages to Iran and Hezbollah via European countries and Russia and to a lesser extent through the United States. The problem is that this pressure does not have an effective address,” wrote Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz. “Israel can declare that it considers the Lebanese government responsible for developments but with no government, there is also no one to pressure Hezbollah.”
Israeli and Lebanese military officials met in the presence of UN peacekeepers at the border between both countries to discuss defusing tensions.
Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the Israelis did not present evidence regarding the tunnels. “This (Israeli accusation) is not based on any real facts at all,” Berri was quoted as saying.
Is Netanyahu seeking to divert attention away from corruption charges?
Inside Israel, the parliament whip for the Zionist Union party, Yoel Hasson, accused Netanyahu of using the operation to divert attention from police recommendations that the prime minister be indicted over corruption charges.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu of turning a “defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation” and “blowing the incident out of proportion” for political gains.
The Israeli military “is about to become the main prop in Netanyahu’s survival plan,” wrote Haaretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer.