Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday said Iran was attempting to “buy” Lebanon by having it rely on the Hezbollah terror group for fuel and repairing the country’s failing power network.
“Iran, through Hezbollah, is trying to buy Lebanon by supplying fuel, repairing the electricity system and building power plants,” Gantz said at an event in the northern town of Katzrin.
For more than two years, Lebanon has been facing a crippling economic, political and energy crisis that has left citizens without basic necessities and created a vacuum for the Hezbollah terror group to take further hold in the nation.
Lebanon’s electricity company offers only a couple of hours of power a day, and residents have heavily relied on costly and polluting private generators. Shortages of medicine, fuel and basic supplies have often brought the country to a standstill and driven more than half of the population deep into poverty.
Iran at times has stepped in with fuel supplies directly to Hezbollah, in moves not authorized by the government.
“Lebanon’s energy dependence on Iran may eventually lead to the establishment of Iranian bases on Lebanese soil and the destabilization of the region,” Gantz said, warning that Lebanese citizens “are the ones who will pay the price.”
Gantz’s remarks came as tensions ran high between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, as the latter has threatened Israeli gas installations amid US-mediated talks over a maritime dispute.
The dispute, which involves competing claims over offshore gas fields, escalated in June after Israel moved a production vessel near the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by Lebanon.
Speaking on plans to begin extracting gas from the offshore Karish field — which has come under threat by Hezbollah in recent months — Gantz said Israel won’t receive “impositions” by Iran or its terror proxies.
“This is [also] true regarding our freedom of action amid any threat to the citizens of Israel, that develops at the border, and beyond it,” he said, referring to airstrikes in Syria and actions in Iran attributed to Israel.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi, currently in France on an official visit, issued a warning to Iran on Wednesday, saying Israel would respond to attempts to attack Israel with a “harsh response or preemptive actions.”
“We are working extremely hard against Iran’s entrenchment in the Middle East. The attempts to harm Israel, in any theater, will be met with a harsh response or preemptive actions,” Kohavi said following a meeting with his French counterpart, Thierry Burkhard.
“The French army and the strengthening relationship with the IDF are important for regional stability,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the Israel Defense Forces.
“We presented our French colleagues with intelligence that proves that the terrorist army Hezbollah has recently been increasing its negative activities, in a way that creates an ever-increasing risk of escalation, and tries to endanger Israel, but in practice also Lebanon and its citizens,” he said.
“Hezbollah has taken the citizens of Lebanon ‘hostage,’ and makes cynical use of civilian infrastructure, houses, and residential buildings which will be attacked by the IDF when necessary,” Kohavi warned.
The maritime dispute relates to some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon claims that the Karish gas field is in disputed territory, while Israel says it lies within its internationally recognized economic waters.
Hezbollah remains vociferously opposed to any concessions to Israel.
The Iran-backed terror group and Israel last fought a war in 2006. Beirut and Jerusalem have no diplomatic relations and the two countries are separated by the UN-patrolled ceasefire line.
Agencies contributed to this report.