US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Lebanon that Israel could soon destroy an alleged precision-guided missile factory used by the Hezbollah terror group if it was not swiftly dismantled, according to an Arabic newspaper report Friday.
Citing unnamed Israeli sources, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat said Pompeo sent a letter to Lebanese President Michel Aoun concerning a Hezbollah compound in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, apparently referring to a facility identified by the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday.
The paper reported that Pompeo relayed the message through Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who it said is considered to have close ties with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
“Lebanon should immediately dismantle the second factory, otherwise Israel will attack and destroy it in the coming days,” Pompeo was quoted telling Bassil.
The report said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue during a meeting in London on Thursday with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and noted the premier was accompanied by the commander of the Israeli Air Force and the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate.
Aoun himself later referred to the possibility of an Israeli strike in Lebanon, suggesting Friday it would be met with a Lebanese response.
“Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon will be met with legitimate self-defense, and Israel will bear all its consequences,” Aoun told the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon, according to the country’s National News Agency.
The Lebanese president also addressed a recent drone attack in Beirut blamed on Israel that reportedly targeted equipment for Hezbollah’s missile program, calling it a violation of the UN Security Council resolution ending the 2006 war between the Israeli military and the Shiite terror group.
According to the IDF, the facility near Nabi Sheet in the Bekaa Valley was established several years ago by Iran and Hezbollah for weapons manufacturing.
The army said that the site it exposed has recently established “a dedicated assembly line for precision weapons” and contains several machines supplied by Iran “designed to manufacture the motors and the warheads of missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters.”
“This facility is of superior importance to the Hezbollah precision missile project, which is why Hezbollah, in fear of strikes, evacuated precious and unique equipment from the compound to civilian locations in Beirut,” the army said, appearing to hint at the reasoning behind the August 25 strike attributed to Israel.
Israel has threatened to act militarily against the missile program if Beirut or the international community do not stymie Hezbollah.
Days before the IDF announcement, Nasrallah said that while Hezbollah has some precision missiles, there was no production taking place in Lebanon.
“We do not have precision missile factories. This is a lie and a pretext that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is adopting to carry out aggression,” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah is believed to have over 150,000 missiles, but only a small number of them can be guided to specific sites. Israel fears in a future war, the terror group could use a barrage of precision missiles to attack sensitive facilities and overwhelm its air defense array.
Israeli planes have carried out airstrikes in Syria to foil efforts by Iran to smuggle the advanced weapons into Lebanon, according to authorities. Jerusalem believes Tehran is now trying to develop domestic production in Lebanon because of the danger involved in trying to move the weapons from Iran to Lebanon.
In a Monday briefing to reporters, a senior Israeli official said that he had directed the military roughly five months ago to prioritize the foiling of a joint Hezbollah-Iranian project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.
The official said the project has become a top priority for Israel’s security apparatus, overtaking the issue of Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and was second only to Tehran’s nuclear program.
According to a Monday Channel 12 news report, Israel was ready to launch a massive retaliation against Hezbollah’s precision missile program in Lebanon, and only opted against carrying out that plan because no IDF soldiers were hurt in a Sunday cross-border attack by the terror group.