Lebanon tells army to confront Israeli ‘aggression’ amid border tensions

Statement by top Lebanese security body comes after countries traded threats over offshore gas fields, IDF-built border wall and Iran missile plans

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)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s top security body has instructed the country’s military to confront any Israeli “aggression” on its land or maritime borders.

The statement by the Higher Defense Council on Wednesday did not elaborate, but it comes amid escalating tensions between the two neighbors, who are technically at war.

The dispute is centered around a border wall the IDF is constructing along the boundary between the two countries, 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.

On Monday, Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks that the border wall violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

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 angered Beirut.

Hezbollah, a powerful terror group considered to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, recently threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported last week.

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.

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel’s coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

Israel has also threatened to keep Iran from building factories to manufacture advanced missiles in Lebanon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the country’s enemies “not to test us,” and said the IDF was prepared for “every scenario.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a security cabinet tour of the IDF’s installations on the Golan Heights, February 6, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Tensions also flared last week when Lebanon issued an offshore oil and gas exploration tender on the country’s maritime border, prompting a war of words with Israel which has laid claim to one of the fields in question.

Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019, and that Lebanon wants to assert its resource rights along the length of its maritime territories.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the move “very provocative,” and suggested that Lebanon had put out a tender to international groups for a gas field “that is by all accounts ours.”

His comments drew sharp condemnation from Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who described the statement as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects.”

Hezbollah has issued pamphlets and a video threatening Israel’s offshore gas platforms with attack. “Whoever abuses oil and gas sites in Lebanon’s economic waters — their sites will be abused,” one pamphlet obtained by the Ynet new site read in broken Hebrew. “They know Lebanon can do this.”

A clip set to dramatic music quoted Liberman claiming ownership over the gas sites, then cut to contradictory claims by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, followed by footage of missiles ostensibly being launched at Israeli gas platforms.

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