Lebanese military tells IDF border wall violates its sovereign territory

Officers from both sides meet at UN-chaired talks near boundary; international peacekeeping force notes restraint exercised by both nations as tensions mount

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)
The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks Monday that a border wall the IDF is constructing along the boundary between the two countries violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

The meeting came amid escalating tensions between the neighbors over the border works, contested rights to offshore natural gas exploration, and Israeli warnings that Iran — through its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah — is turning the country into a forward base to manufacture rockets and attack the Jewish state.

Construction of the wall has strained tensions, with Hezbollah, a powerful terror group thought to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, recently threatening to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier.

The army officers sat down during a regular tripartite meeting chaired by UN peacekeepers at UN positions in Ras al-Naqoura near the disputed border, Reuters reported.

A UNIFIL patrol near the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Hamad Almakt/Flash90)
A UNIFIL patrol near the Israeli-Lebanese border. (Hamad Almakt/Flash90)

Israel has been building the obstacle — made up of a collection of berms, cliffs and concrete barriers — for a long time, but it has only now reportedly angered Beirut.

“The Lebanese side reviewed the matter of the wall which the Israeli enemy intends to build,” the Lebanese army said in a statement following the meeting. It added that it was “confirming the position of the Lebanese government rejecting the construction of this wall as it violates Lebanese sovereignty.”

The Lebanese army statement also referred to another dispute with Israel, regarding the rights to explore natural gas reserves off the coast of the two countries. Lebanon has issued tenders for blocks in the Mediterranean Sea that Israel says are part of its own territorial waters.

“The block lies entirely within Lebanon’s territorial and economic waters,” the Lebanese statement said.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which hosted the meeting, said in a statement the talks had drawn attention “due to engineering works south of the Blue Line previously announced by the Israeli side.”

UNIFIL commander Major General Michael Beary praised what he said was a “period of relative calm” since the last meeting between the two sides.

“However, there has been a great deal of activity along the Blue Line,” Beary said referring to the line that marked Israel’s UN-recognized withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. “I would like to acknowledge the restraint exercised by both parties in decreasing tension and maintaining stability. No one wants to return to a period of escalating tensions and a breach of the cessation of hostilities.”

A Hezbollah observation post on the Israeli-Lebanese border, according to the IDF. Photo released on June 22, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The section Israel is now constructing, on the northern side of the border fence, is angering Hezbollah. However, in parts, the fence is built inside Israeli territory, ostensibly within the Blue Line.

Last Monday Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported that Hezbollah had threatened to attack Israeli army units working on the border.

The message was delivered to Jerusalem via UNIFIL, the report said. The UN force, fearing a possible escalation, passed the message on to the US and French ambassadors, who updated the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on the matter.

The Israeli government, unimpressed, responded with a threatening message of its own, the report said. Israel said it was acting in its own sovereign territory in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution adopted after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

Israel does not intend to halt the construction, Jerusalem said, and Hezbollah will “pay dearly” if it tries to inflame tensions. “Israel’s reaction will be strong and painful,” sources in Israel’s security establishment were quoted as saying.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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