Lebanon’s president said Tuesday that Israel’s operation to destroy a series of cross-border attack tunnels built by the Hezbollah terror group won’t endanger the calm along the frontier, adding that his country takes the issue seriously.
Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said that Lebanon is prepared to address the issue after assessing a full report on the situation.
Aoun said the United States has informed Lebanon that Israel has “no aggressive intentions,” adding that his country harbored none either.
“We are ready to remove the causes of the disagreements, but after we get the full report and decide what are the issues we need to handle,” Aoun said.
Israel launched Operation Northern Shield last week, an effort to locate and destroy attack tunnels the army says Hezbollah dug into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon. The IDF operation along the Lebanese border sparked fears internationally that Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah could be heading toward a major confrontation, the first since 2006.
The peacekeeping force, or UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of two tunnels. On Tuesday, the mission’s head, Maj. Stefano Del Col, said he met with Aoun and Lebanon’s parliament speaker and informed them that UNIFIL experts have inspected two tunnels near Metulla, along the border north of Israel.
“This is a serious matter and UNIFIL is working in close coordination with the parties both at the technical level as well as at the leadership level to ensure that all related facts are objectively determined and diligently addressed in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” Del Col said in a statement.
He said the inspection of tunnels is a “work in progress,” vowing that UNIFIL will “make every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding on this sensitive matter.”
He added that “the calm and stability along the Blue Line,” meaning the international border, “must be preserved. I am encouraged to hear from both parties that they have no intention to escalate the situation along the Blue Line and they are keen to continue working with UNIFIL to this end.”
Aoun spoke alongside Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who plans to visit 180 Austrian peacekeepers in southern Lebanon the following day.
Van der Bellen said he calls on the two sides “to keep calm.”
“You are in a region that … will be for the next years, decades, always a difficult region as long as we have no real peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Van der Bellen said.
“It’s in the interest of all countries of the region to keep the borders as they are, for economic reasons, for social reasons, and for development reasons. I think Israel is no exception to that.”
Also Tuesday the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence told lawmakers that the prospect of an intentionally initiated war with Hezbollah was low, but the potential exists for circumstances to escalate out of control.
Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman told the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that while the northern region — Lebanon and Syria — was “volatile,” Operation Northern Shield was nevertheless critical in that it would remove the “cornerstone” of Hezbollah’s war plans.
According to the military, the terror group planned to use the tunnels to send dozens or hundreds of soldiers into Israeli territory, alongside masses of troops above-ground and a barrage of rockets and mortar shells, as a way to kick off a future war with Israel.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.