Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri denied Israeli assertions that Iran has established weapons factories in Lebanon for the Hezbollah terror group, saying the allegations were part of a “disinformation campaign” by Israel.
“The Israelis know very well that there are no missile factories in Lebanon. They are used to running these disinformation campaigns,” Hariri told the French daily Le Monde in an interview published Friday.
“Our problem with Israel is that its leaders always talk about war and security but never about peace,” he said, accusing Israel of failing to respond to the Saudi peace initiative from 2002.
Israel has recently warned against Iranian efforts to setup weapons production facilities in Lebanon, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman telling United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a meeting in Israel earlier this week that Iran is “working to set up factories to manufacture accurate weapons within Lebanon itself.”
Liberman did not explicitly threaten to attack the Iranian missile factories in Lebanon, but he said that “the Lebanese government and the citizens of southern Lebanon should know” that Israel will be forceful in future conflicts.
The presence of at least two Iranian missile manufacturing facilities was revealed by Israel earlier this summer. On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Guterres that Iran was also involved in the construction of another missile base in Syria.
Netanyahu also said Iran is working to establish beachheads in Lebanon and Syria with which to attack Israel.
“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” the prime minister said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”
In the interview with Le Monde, Hariri rejected claims that Hezbollah is in control of Lebanon, days after the terror group negotiated a deal for the evacuation from Lebanon of Islamic State jihadists fighting against Lebanese security forces.
“They claim that Hezbollah controls Lebanon, this is not true,” he said. Hezbollah has a presence — it is in the government and it enjoys support in the country — but this doesn’t mean that Hezbollah is in control of the entire Lebanon.”
Hariri also defended the agreement for the IS fighters’ evacuation, saying he and Lebanese President Michael Aoun allowed the jihadists to “cross the border” into Syria as part of the deal, but also said “their transfer in buses to eastern Syria was the decision of Hezbollah and the Syrians.”
He also denied the terror group played a more critical role than the Lebanese army in the fighting against IS, saying “this is what Hezbollah is claiming but in fact it was the Lebanese army that played the bigger role and did everything.”
The Lebanese prime minister’s comments regarding the size of Hezbollah’s role in the country came as the UN on Wednesday approved a new expanded mandate for its peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon that Israel said will help stymie the terror group’s power and influence in the country’s southern region.
Israel and the US had sought the more robust mandate for UNIFIL to tackle what they say is a blatant, unauthorized arms buildup by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Agencies and TOI staff contributed to this report.