Lebanon’s foreign minister gathered ambassadors Monday near Beirut international airport in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah terror group has secret missile facilities there.
“Today Lebanon is raising [its] voice by addressing all countries of the world… to refute Israel’s allegations,” Gibran Bassil said.
Bassil was speaking to 73 foreign envoys gathered for a televised briefing, in what he described as a “counter-diplomatic campaign.”
The most notable absentee was the ambassador of the United States, Israel’s top ally. Bassil said the US envoy was traveling, but no deputy was sent to stand in for Elizabeth Richard.
The minister then took the diplomats and dozens of journalists on a tour of the alleged missile sites, in a bid to refute Israel’s claims.
On September 27, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the UN General Assembly that Hezbollah had secret missile conversion sites near Beirut airport.
He produced satellite imagery pinpointing three sites and accused the powerful Iranian-backed Shiite terror group of using Beirut residents as human shields.
“So I also have a message for Hezbollah today: Israel knows, Israel also knows what you’re doing. Israel knows where you’re doing it. And Israel will not let you get away with it,” Netanyahu said.
Hezbollah, whose forces control south Lebanon bordering Israel and Beirut’s southern suburbs where the airport is located, has not officially reacted to the accusation.
Last month, its chief Hassan Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah had acquired “precision missiles.”
On Monday, Bassil led a group of the ambassadors around a sports stadium and pool complex, one of the sites that Netanyahu had identified as a missile facility.
The delegation was accompanied by security personnel and journalists.
Bassil lashed out at Israel, which he said had “violated our land, air, and marine space 1,417 times in the last eight months.”
Israel was attempting “to justify another violation of UN resolutions and to justify another aggression on a sovereign country,” he said.
The Jewish state has fought several conflicts against Hezbollah, the last in 2006.
Soon after Netanyahu’s speech Thursday, the IDF released satellite images of the sites that it says are being used by Hezbollah to hide underground precision missile production facilities.
The sites are located within close proximity to the Beirut airport.
The factories, which are meant to convert regular missiles into more accurate precision ones, are not believed to be up and running. The Israeli military said the missiles are currently being constructed with Iranian assistance.
The target of last month’s Israeli airstrike, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.
According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.
The army said the facilities are “another example of Iranian entrenchment in the region and the negative influence of Iran.”
Holding up aerial photos of the alleged Hezbollah facilities, Netanyahu warned: “Israel knows what you are doing, Israel knows where you are doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it.”
Netanyahu accused the Lebanese terror group of “deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields.”
According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.
Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017.
Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not tolerate such facilities.
In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we cannot accept this threat.”
One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.
These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles.
“Israel is monitoring these sites with a variety of capabilities and tools, has significant knowledge of the precision project and is working to fight it with a variety of operational responses, techniques and tools,” the army said.
In May, Netanyahu said Israel was “operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”
In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Israeli Air Force has largely abstained from conducting raids inside Lebanon itself, though it has indicated that it was prepared to do so.
Earlier this year, IAF chief Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying next to Beirut’s airport, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.