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With Hezbollah escort, reporters later tour site named by PM

IDF adds two more alleged Hezbollah missile sites to Netanyahu’s UN claim

Military’s revelation, following Netanyahu’s, appears to be part of effort to drive wedge between Iran-backed terror group and Lebanese people following Beirut Port blast

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The location of an alleged Hezbollah arms depot next to a mosque in the Chouaifet neighborhood of Beirut, as claimed by the Israel Defense Forces on September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)
The location of an alleged Hezbollah arms depot next to a mosque in the Chouaifet neighborhood of Beirut, as claimed by the Israel Defense Forces on September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces identified two alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut Tuesday night, on top of another one Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to reveal during an address to the United Nations earlier in the evening.

According to the military, all three sites are tied to the terror group’s precision-guided missile project, an effort to convert its massive arsenal of simple rockets into highly accurate missiles, which present a far greater challenge to Israel’s air defenses and would potentially be a game changer in the conflict with the Iran-backed militia.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to take action to prevent Hezbollah from completing this so-called precision project. Hezbollah denied the claims Tuesday, taking journalists on a tour of sites in a bid to dispel the unconfirmed Israeli allegations.

The IDF, in an apparent response to the terror group’s plans to display the location to the press, tweeted the GPS coordinates of the locations and said that journalists should try to visit the site “before [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s moving trucks” get there.

According to the military, one of the sites is an underground facility built beneath four seven-story apartment buildings in which 70 families live, east of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. A church is located nearby, as is a medical center.

The location of an alleged Hezbollah arms depot next to a church and a medical center in the Laylaki neighborhood of Beirut, as claimed by the Israel Defense Forces on September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

The second site is also a subterranean facility, located under a complex of five apartment buildings in which some 50 families live. According to the IDF, the missile production site is located approximately 90 meters from a mosque.

The military’s identification of the locations of the two sites came roughly half an hour after Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly that Israel had uncovered a secret arms depot in the Janah neighborhood of the Lebanese capital, just north of the airport.

The site is hundreds of meters from a trio of similar arms sites that Netanyahu claimed to reveal during a UN speech in 2018. Then as well, Hezbollah denied the claims.

The location of an alleged Hezbollah arms depot next to a gas station in the Janah neighborhood of Beirut, as stated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

The exposure of the alleged missile factories appeared to be a bid by the military and Netanyahu to drive a wedge between the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group and the Lebanese population, citing both last month’s devastating explosion at the Beirut Port, which has not yet been directly tied to the Shiite militia, and a blast last Tuesday in the town of Ain Qana in southern Lebanon, which occurred at a Hezbollah facility, widely reported to be arms depot.

Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced he would open the Janah site to the press to inspect.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows what he says is the entrance to a Hezbollah arms depot next to a gas station in the Janah neighborhood of Beirut, in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 29, 2020 (UN screenshot)

Lebanese and foreign reporters who visited the area later on Tuesday night said they did not find missile parts, though their movement through the area was heavily restricted by Hezbollah operatives.

The locations of three alleged Hezbollah arms depots in Beirut, as claimed by the Israel Defense Forces on September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces)

In his remarks, Netanyahu warned of the possibility of another catastrophic explosion and called on the Lebanese people to protest against the terror group and its Iranian sponsors.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised speech on August 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Al-Manar)

“We all saw the terrible explosion at Beirut port last month,” Netanyahu said in a pre-recorded statement broadcast to UN delegates, referring to August 4’s huge blast that rocked the Lebanese capital.

He pointed to the site of the blast on a map displayed next to his podium. “The explosion happened here. This is the Beirut port. Two hundred people died, thousands of people were injured, and a quarter of a million people were made homeless,” he said.

“Now, here is where the next explosion could take place. Right here. This is the Beirut neighborhood of Janah. It’s right next to the international airport. And here, Hezbollah is keeping a secret arms depot.”

The 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 the map.

He proceeded to display photographs of the entrance of the facility, which he said was a Hezbollah missile factory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows what he says is the location of a Hezbollah arms depot next to a gas station in the Janah neighborhood of Beirut, in a video address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 29, 2020 (UN screenshot)

“I say to the people of Janah, you’ve got to act now. You’ve got to protest this. Because if this thing explodes, it’s another tragedy,” Netanyahu said.

“I say to the people of Lebanon, Israel means you no harm. But Iran does. Iran and Hezbollah have deliberately put you and your families in grave danger. And what you should make clear is that what they have done is unacceptable. You should tell them, ‘tear these depots down.’”

The international community, he said, “must insist that Hezbollah stop using Lebanon and Lebanese civilians as human shields.”

The August 4 blast was caused by some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, which were apparently inadequately stored in an old warehouse for years. Some blamed Hezbollah for the volatile materials staying at the port despite repeated warnings by officials, but the Shiite group denies any responsibility.

Tuesday’s speech was not the first time Netanyahu used the stage at the UN General Assembly to reveal hitherto classified information about secret warehouses and weapons depots. In 2018 — the last time he addressed the world body in person — the prime minister revealed the existence of what he said were three facilities to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles near Beirut’s international airport.

Hezbollah reportedly abandoned these sites following the speech.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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