Hezbollah on Tuesday night denied placing arms depots in downtown Beirut after Israel alleged the Lebanese terror group was producing and storing weapons next to crowded civilian areas in the capital, and took journalists on a tour in a bid to disprove the claims.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Tuesday alleged that a secret arms factory belonging to Hezbollah was hidden near Beirut’s International Airport, near gas companies, a gas station and civilian housing.
Shortly after, the Israel Defense Forces published information that it said showed the location of two more sites in civilian areas of southern Beirut tied to Hezbollah’s precision missile program.
In a prescheduled address hours later, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah briefly digressed from the main subject of his speech — Lebanon’s rapidly collapsing government — to counter Netanyahu’s claims.
“If there [were] missiles there placed by Hezbollah — even a single rocket — I would not waste a minute before informing you of this matter,” Nasrallah said, adding “we don’t put rockets, not in the Beirut port, not by a gas station. We know very well where to put our weapons.”
“This is incitement of the Lebanese people against Hezbollah, as usual,” Nasrallah said.
In an effort to demonstrate that the site of which Netanyahu spoke was not an arms depot, Hezbollah escorted local journalists on a visit to the area near Beirut’s international airport later on Tuesday night.
“This is an industrial building, a normal building, that’s been in this area for decades,” Mohammad Afif, the director of Hezbollah’s press office, said to reporters at the scene.
“We are proving our accountability. This tour isn’t happening a day or two or three days later, which would allow Israel to falsely allege that Hezbollah moved the rockets and is trying to pull the wool over the media’s eyes,” Afif said.
“You can see the missile and the missile factory behind you,” he said sarcastically. “We want to confirm again that all charges by the enemy are mere lies.”
Reporters on the scene were permitted to examine an iron-cutting warehouse in the area.
The journalists, including AP and AFP photographers, said they saw large pieces of iron and steel, heavy machinery and oxygen canisters — but no missiles or weapons of any kind.
Muhammad Rammal, who claimed to be the factory owner, told the Emirates-based The National that he was surprised by Netanyahu’s allegations.
“This is a normal place. We’re a normal part of this area,” Rammal said.
As the journalists toured the warehouse, Hezbollah supporters turned up, chanting their support for the group’s leader and shouting: “We are your rockets!”
In 2018, the foreign minister of Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed government took journalists on a tour of some sites in the area after Netanyahu made similar allegations of weapons factories in civilian areas of Beirut, though in that case the tours were only arranged days later.
Fears surrounding the dangers of possible Hezbollah arms stores in civilian areas were brought to the fore in early August after a massive explosion in Beirut’s port, blamed on a warehouse holding thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate.
While the terror group has denied any connection to the explosion, which damaged large parts of the city, it is known to have interests in both the explosives and in the Beirut port. Still, no definitive evidence exists which proves Hezbollah owned the deadly chemicals which caused the explosion.
Last week, a reported Hezbollah weapons stockpile blew up in the southern Lebanese village of Ain Qana. The town is located in Iqleem al-Tuffah, an area replete with Hezbollah strongholds. A major Hezbollah tourist site which draws tens of thousands of visitors a year is a few minutes’ drive away.
Hezbollah forces immediately mobilized in the area, forming a perimeter around the explosion site and prevented journalists from investigating. The official Hezbollah explanation is that the explosion was a “technical error.”
“Everyone knows where the weapons are. The issue of these weapons in villages and cities is now an issue of life and death. It is neither justifiable nor acceptable for Hezbollah to consider to store its weapons in such places,” Ali al-Amin, a journalist covering south Lebanon, told UAE-based al-Hadath TV at the time.
Netanyahu in his UN address urged the Lebanese to take action to prevent another catastrophic explosion like the Beirut port explosion — which killed over 180 and rendered 300,000 homeless on August 4 — and to protest against Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors.
The “secret arms depot” in the city’s Janah neighborhood, the prime minister said, is adjacent to a gas company. “And it’s embedded in civilian housing here, [and] civilian housing here,” he said, pointing at a map.
Nasrallah, in his speech, told viewers that the revenge for the alleged assassination of senior Hezbollah official Ali Kamel Mohsen by Israel in Syria was yet to come.
For months, Nasrallah has vowed that the terror group was looking “to kill a soldier” in response to Mohsen’s death. While Israel has not commented on the Hezbollah commander’s death, Nasrallah has brooked little doubt in his public statements.
“On the borders with occupied Palestine, the enemy’s army is still on high alert,” Nasrallah said, adding “this is a good thing. This is the longest they have ever remained on high alert… since the beginning of the Zionist entity’s existence.”
“We observe, we wait, we are patient… until the day when we make the event a reality,” Nasrallah said, referring to the group’s aim of killing an Israeli soldier.
Soldiers have been on high alert on the northern border since July 20. The IDF says Hezbollah has twice tried to exact revenge with failed attacks near the frontier.
Agencies contributed to this report.