Israel was reportedly in advanced discussions to transfer medical equipment to Lebanon on Wednesday evening, a day after the deadly blast at the Beirut port.
Contacts were being moderated by the United Nations, according to the Kan public broadcaster, which quoted an unnamed source from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) saying the government there received Israel’s offer of aid, but had yet to respond “officially.”
The report said Israel would send “specific equipment” to Lebanon, but did not elaborate.
The two countries have no diplomatic relations and mutually classify each other as an enemy state.
On Tuesday evening, a massive blast rocked Beirut, killing at least 100 and leaving large parts of the capital in ruins. The disaster has pushed Lebanon, already straining under an unprecedented economic crisis, to the brink, and hospitals have struggled to cope with the thousands of injured.
Several hours after the explosion, Israel’s foreign and defense ministries announced they had “approached Lebanon through international defense and diplomatic channels to offer the Lebanese government medical humanitarian aid.”
Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had approved the offer of assistance and ordered National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to speak with UN officials to explore “how Israel can further assist Lebanon.”
Other countries, including Gulf states Qatar and Kuwait, dispatched aid to Lebanon on Wednesday. European countries also offered help.
Israel regularly dispatches aid to faraway countries, including setting up field hospitals, assisting search and rescue efforts and sending food, water and other essentials.
Netanyahu on Wednesday expressed condolences to the Lebanese people, and reiterated his offer to send humanitarian aid.
“We have done that in the past. During the humanitarian crisis in Syria, I ordered the building of a field hospital at our border in the Golan Heights… We offered several times, after earthquakes and natural disasters in Iran, humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people,” Netanyahu said.
“That’s our way. We distinguish between the regimes and the people,” he added.
However, the prime minister failed to mention that Israel has also passed on the occasion to offer aid to the Lebanese people in the past. Last year, for instance, the country asked its neighbors for help with battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country.
Beirut did not appeal to Israel for help and Jerusalem did not offer any, despite having in the past offered assistance to states in the region, including those with which it doesn’t have diplomatic relations.
Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, frequently say they hold the government of Lebanon responsible for any attacks by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.
Its offers of aid to enemy countries are almost always turned down and sometimes earn it accusations of “rubble-washing” — using disaster recovery to burnish its image.
Aside from humanitarian aid, four Israeli hospitals have offered to help treat Lebanon’s injured.
Many Israelis have expressed horror over the disaster that struck Beirut and sympathy with the Lebanese people, despite past enmity between the countries. Tel Aviv’s city hall lit up in the colors of Lebanon’s flag in solidarity on Wednesday night.
Some on the right expressed opposition to aiding Lebanon, home to Hezbollah, with which Israel has been locked in conflict for decades. Hezbollah is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction and is part of the Lebanese government.
Bezalel Smotrich, an MK from the right-wing opposition Jewish Home party, wrote on Twitter that Israel should only offer Lebanon help if it is in Israel’s strategic interest. “Morally, we have no obligation or need to extend a helping hand to an outright enemy state,” he wrote.
Israel has fought a number of wars with Lebanon and the countries are officially enemy states. From 1982 to 2000 Israel occupied a swath of southern Lebanon to push out Palestinian groups, and in 2006 fought a devastating war against Hezbollah. While Israel in the past has avoided direct confrontation with Lebanon’s US-backed armed forces, it has indicated in recent years that it may not do so in a future conflict.
Tensions have been high on the Israeli-Lebanese border recently, after Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt by up to five Hezbollah gunmen — a claim denied by Hezbollah. Israel has been bracing for an attack from Hezbollah after the terror group accused the Jewish state of killing one of its men in an airstrike in Syria last month.