Netanyahu: Israel taking action against arms manufacturing in Lebanon

Prime minister affirms Israel’s right to self-defense, says battle with Iran in Syria not over

A photograph said to be of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which was apparently leaked to Israel's Hadashot news. (Screen capture)
A photograph said to be of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jet flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut, which was apparently leaked to Israel's Hadashot news. (Screen capture)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was taking action against arms manufacturing in Lebanon and threatened continued fighting with Iran Sunday.

Netanyahu’s stark threat against Lebanon came after Israeli officials have warned repeatedly that Iran may be trying to manufacture advanced missiles in Lebanon to be used against Israel by the Hezbollah terror group.

“We are working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. At the same time we are working against the establishment of an Iranian military presence against us; to this end we are also operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon. All of these weapons are for use against the State of Israel and it is our right – based on the right of self-defense – to prevent their manufacture or transfer.”

Netanyahu did not specify what action was being taken against the arms in Lebanon.

Israel has reportedly carried out dozens of airstrikes against targets in Syria, including Iranian military installations, but has mostly refrained from carrying out attacks in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is a major player in the country’s government.

Last week, Israeli air force head Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying near Beirut, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah responded Friday, saying his group did not want a war but would “assuredly win” one.

Israeli officials believe that Iran, failing to effectively transfer weapons to Lebanon via the so-called Shia crescent, is looking to manufacture the arms in Lebanon.

Israel fought a punishing war with Hezbollah in 2006. Jerusalem believes the group has since re-armed with tens of thousands of missiles that can threaten the whole country, but lacks guided missile technology.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have also warned that Lebanon could suffer if Israel takes action against Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed terror group’s political arm has seen its political fortunes rise in recent years, including in a recent election that pit the group as prime minister Sa’ad Hariri’s main rival.

Israel has also consistently warned that Iran, while helping its ally Bashar Assad fight a longstanding insurgency in Syria, has been working to establish a powerful military presence in the country.

Israel’s airstrikes in recent months on Iran-backed military sites in Syria, which it rarely admits to openly, have led to increased tensions in the northern border region and earlier this month saw a barrage of several dozen missiles at northern Israel, apparently fired by Iranian-backed forces, drawing a massive Israeli reprisal attack.

Netanyahu told his cabinet meeting that the fighting with Iran, which has calmed in recent days, was not over.

“The Tehran regime is the main factor undermining stability in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem. “The campaign against its aggression has not ended; we are still in it.”

An illustrative map showing the general locations of Israeli strikes in Syria in response to a presumed Iranian attack on the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The prime minister also revealed he had personally thanked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Washington’s firm stance against Iran over its nuclear weapons aspirations and missile program.

“I spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and I said to him that I thank him for the approach that the US is presenting against the Iran nuclear deal, and against the Iranian aggression in our region,” Netanyahu said.

Last week, Pompeo delivered an address laying out US demands for Iran for sanctions releif in the wake of the nuclear deal pullout, including ending destabilizing activity in the region and making threats against Israel.

Pompeo specifically threatened to “crush” Iran proxies such as Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the Trump administration would work with “as many partners, friends and allies as possible” to address Iran, but his plan has been met with widespread skepticism, especially from other signatories to the nuclear deal.

Iranian officials widely dismissed Pompeo’s demands and vowed to push ahead with their military programs. Netanyahu was the one of the few foreign leaders to publicly praise Pompeo’s rhetoric.

US President Donald Trump announced May 8 he was pulling the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which heavy sanctions were lifted from Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing to dismantle the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program.

Netanyahu also warned that Israel would not tolerate “aggression against us from the Gaza Strip,” referring to weekend exchanges across the restive Israeli-Gazan border.

Two members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were killed Sunday morning when and Israeli tank fired at one of the terror group’s position in the Gaza Strip in response to the planting of an explosive device along the Gaza border. Israel also carried out airstrikes Saturday in Gaza on Hamas terror group positions after Palestinians breached the border fence and entered Israeli territory.

It was the latest exchange in ongoing deadly violence at the border which has seen tens of thousands of Palestinians taking part in protests organized by Hamas. Israel says Hamas is using the protests as cover to storm the fence and carry out attacks inside Israeli territory.

Netanyahu began his comments by offering his condolences over the death of Ronen Lubarsky, a soldier from an elite army unit who died Saturday, two days after he was critically injured when Palestinians dropped a marble slab on his head from a third-story rooftop during an IDF operation to arrest suspected terrorists in the West Bank.

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