Monday 16 September 2019

Lebanon must tackle Hezbollah 'border tunnels', says Netanyahu

Uncovered: An Israeli soldier lowers a camera into what officials claim is a tunnel dug by Hezbollah linking Lebanon
and Israel. Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Uncovered: An Israeli soldier lowers a camera into what officials claim is a tunnel dug by Hezbollah linking Lebanon and Israel. Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Aron Heller

Israel's prime minister yesterday called on the UN Security Council to condemn "wanton acts of aggression" by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, designate it a terrorist organisation and heighten sanctions on it over tunnels it has dug into Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the council should "stand up for the truth" when it meets to discuss the tunnels Israel recently uncovered on the Lebanon border during Operation Northern Shield

The Israeli military is engaged in the open-ended operation to identify and destroy the cross-border passageways, of which four have already been uncovered.

Israel said they were built by Hezbollah militants to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and conquer its northern tip.

"This is not merely an act of aggression. This is an act of war," Mr Netanyahu said. "The people of Lebanon have to understand that Hezbollah is putting them in jeopardy and we expect Lebanon to take action against this."

Hezbollah, which has used such tunnels inside Lebanon before, has yet to comment.

Israel has long called for a crackdown on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a heavily armed mini-army that is believed to possess an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly all of Israel.

The two sides are bitter enemies and fought an inconclusive month-long war in 2006.

In recent years, Hezbollah has been bogged down in fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. But with that civil war winding down, Israeli security officials fear it is now refocusing its attention on Israel.

Mr Netanyahu said Hezbollah was currently using every third house in villages in southern Lebanon for hiding missiles or other military activity. He called their activity a "double war crime" since it threatened to harm Israeli civilians and put Lebanese civilians in danger as well.

Yesterday, the Israeli military escorted reporters along the Israel-Lebanon border to the site of one of the tunnels near the town of Metula.

Israeli soldiers lowered cameras 26 metres into the mouth of a tunnel they said was emanating from the Lebanese village of Kafr Kela just a few hundred metres away.

Mr Netanyahu is demanding the UN's peacekeeping force in Lebanon take action against Hezbollah's violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning it from conducting military activity in southern Lebanon.

The UN said that two of the tunnels allegedly dug by Hezbollah cross the border in violation of the ceasefire agreement that ended Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Though it appeared Lebanon was unaware of the Hezbollah tunnel network, Mr Netanyahu said it knew about it now and was required to neutralise it for its own country's sake.

"The fact that the Lebanese army is doing nothing means they are unable or unwilling or both to do anything about this. But it doesn't absolve Lebanon's culpability," he said.

Lebanon's foreign ministry said it was concerned about the UN report about the tunnels crossing the border. It said the Lebanese army had been asked to "intensify its activities" along the border.

It also said the council should hold Israel accountable for its violations of Lebanon's air, land and sea space.

Irish Independent

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