PM to Macron: Get Hezbollah arms out of civilian areas to avert more disasters

In phone call, Netanyahu expresses Israel’s willingness to provide aid after Beirut blast; warns terror group not to seek confrontation

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on June 5, 2018. (Philippe Wojazer/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on June 5, 2018. (Philippe Wojazer/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday lauded French President Emmanuel Macron for his leadership in the wake of last week’s massive blast at the Beirut port.

The two leaders spoke in a phone call, during which Netanyhu “expressed Israel’s willingness to give humanitarian aid” to the Lebanese population, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

During the call, Netanyahu also called for the removal of Hezbollah missiles and explosive materials from populated areas. “In order to prevent disasters like the one that occurred at Beirut port, the explosives and missiles that Hezbollah has hidden must be removed from all concentrations of civilian population in Lebanon,” he said.

“The prime minister clarified that if Hezbollah thinks they can solve the crisis in Lebanon by creating a crisis with Israel, this is a big mistake,” the PMO statement said.

In a 2018 speech to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu detailed sites in Beirut where he said Hezbollah concealed weaponry, including close to the water front.

Preliminary evidence released by Lebanese officials indicates that the explosion was connected to 2,750 metric tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate which was left unsupervised in the port for some six years.

Hezbollah has previous connections to ammonium nitrate, including incidents in Germany and the UK, both widely reported at the time, in which its agents were reportedly found with substantial quantities of the material. In London in 2015, following a Mossad tip off, British intelligence reportedly found four Hezbollah operatives with 3 tons of ammonium nitrate held in flour sacks. A similar process led to the discovery in Germany of Hezbollah operatives with enough ammonium nitrate “to blow up a city,” an Israeli TV report said Friday.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gives a speech in the aftermath of a deadly explosion in Beirut, on Friday August 7, 2020 (al-Manar screenshot)

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, in a 2016 speech, threatened to fire missiles at an Israeli ammonia storage tank in the northern port city of Haifa. “Lebanon has a ‘nuclear bomb’ today,” Nasrallah said in the speech. “The idea is that some of our missiles, combined with the ammonia in Haifa, will create the effect of an atom bomb.” (The tank has since been emptied out.)

On a snap visit to shell-shocked Beirut last Thursday, Macron pledged to lead international emergency relief efforts and organize an aid conference in the coming days, promising that “Lebanon is not alone.”

Macron, who viewed the devastated port and met with senior Lebanese officials, said the visit was “an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions.”

French President Emmanuel Macron chats with people as he visits Beirut’s Gemmayzeh neighborhood which has suffered extensive damage due to a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital, on August, 6. 2020 (AFP)

But he also warned that Lebanon — already in desperate need of a multi-billion-dollar bailout and hit by political turmoil since October — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.

Speaking of Lebanon’s political leaders, Macron said “their responsibility is huge — that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change.”

The aid “will not fall into corrupt hands” Macron said, calling on Lebanon’s discredited government to reform.

The government stood down on Monday over the recent events, leading to further uncertainty about the country’s future.

Last Wednesday’s massive explosion at Beirut’s port killed over 200 people, injured thousands and left nearly a third of a million people homeless.

Though a full investigation into the incident is ongoing, initial reports from Lebanon indicate the main explosion was triggered by a smaller fire and blast that caused some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate to detonate, an amount more than 1,000 times greater than that used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Israel’s next war against Hezbollah would be more difficult to fight, in light of the terror group’s practice of storing weapons in civilian areas.

“We saw the disaster [that] occurred in Lebanon. Imagine to yourselves if this had been multiplied by Hezbollah’s caches of weapons, which are in every Lebanese city and village,” Gantz told the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The defense minister said Hezbollah’s practice of keeping weapons in civilian homes presented a risk to Lebanese citizens and a challenge to the Israel Defense Forces, which see the terror group as its primary military foe at its borders.

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