Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that should war erupt again with Lebanon, Beirut will “pay the full price” for Iran’s entrenchment in the country.
Speaking at an annual conference held by Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, Liberman said that Lebanon will be held to account in a future war because, led by the terrorist Hezbollah group, it has “sacrificed its national interests by subjugating fully to Iran.”
“Lebanon’s army and Hezbollah are the same — they will all pay the full price in the event of an escalation,” Liberman said. “If a conflict does break out in the north, ‘boots on the ground’ remains an option. We won’t allow scenes like in 2006, where we saw citizens of Beirut on the beach while Israelis in Tel Aviv sat in shelters.”
He added: “If people in Tel Aviv will be in bomb shelters, all of Beirut will be in bomb shelters.”
Liberman was referring to the Second Lebanon War, during which dozens of Israelis were killed in the north in rocket attacks — though Tel Aviv never came under attack.
Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles and a fighting force of some 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.
Over the past year, Israel has often warned of a growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, with Liberman telling United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in August that Iran is “working to set up factories to manufacture accurate weapons within Lebanon itself.”
In a rare Arabic op-ed published Sunday in Lebanese news outlets, the IDF spokesman accused Iran of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory.” In the piece, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said Iran’s extensive support for Hezbollah had turned the country into a “branch” of the Islamic Republic.
“It is no longer just the transfer of weapons, money and advice. Iran has de facto opened a new branch — ‘the Lebanon Branch.’ Iran is here,” Manelis wrote.
In his Wednesday speech, the defense minister said that this time, as opposed to 2006, a war with Lebanon would also likely involve Syria.
“Israel’s northern front extends to Syria; it is not just Lebanon. I am not sure that the Syrian government can resist Hezbollah’s attempts to drag them into a war with Israel,” he said.
Hezbollah has committed much of its fighting force in support of the Syrian government in its ongoing war with rebel groups.
Warning against growing Iranian influence in the region, Liberman also railed against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by the P5+1 nations.
“The Iran deal is a very bad deal; it is even worse than the agreements with North Korea,” he said. “This deal leads the entire Middle East into a nuclear arms race. The Iran deal has to be changed.”
Echoing comments made earlier this week by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Liberman suggested that while European countries seem unlikely to budge in their support for the deal, they may be moving closer to tackling the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to scuttle the pact unless it can be improved to his liking. But with dim prospects for reopening the deal, Trump’s administration has instead been looking to add requirements to the US law governing implementation of the deal so that sanctions, waived as part of the agreement, could be put back in place if Iran continues with non-nuclear activity that the US deems unacceptable.
Referencing US support for Israel and the recent Palestinian fallout of Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Liberman said he saw no prospect imminent progress on renewing peace talks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “is not looking for an agreement; he is only looking to buy time and stall the peace process,” Liberman. “All we can do is work on managing the conflict with the Palestinians. The only solution, for now, is to reach a more limited agreement. A permanent peace deal is too ambitious right now.”