US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly conveyed to Lebanon a message from Israel warning Beirut of action by Iran and Hezbollah to covertly construct a new missile production facility in the country.
The covert facility produces precision missiles and constitutes a threat to both Israel and Lebanon, Pompeo said, according to a report Monday from Channel 13.
“Pompeo raised before [Lebanese] Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri his concerns over Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon. The actions of Hezbollah are a threat to Lebanon,” a senior US official was quoted as saying.
“We made it clear to the government of Lebanon that…the danger of escalation with Israel as a result [of Hezbollah’s actions] is real,” the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Pompeo of the factory’s existence during the top US diplomat’s visit to Israel last month, the report said.
Pompeo visited Beirut after Israel, using the trip to highlight his concerns about Hezbollah, which is targeted by US sanctions as a terror group, but holds three cabinet posts in Lebanon.
“Lebanon and the Lebanese people face a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said during a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil.
Bassil said he held “constructive and positive talks” with Pompeo but stressed that they had different perspective with regards to Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not a terrorist group, and it enjoys a wide popular base,” Bassil said.
During his visit to Israel, Pompeo visited the Western Wall with Netanyahu — the first serving secretary to tour the contested area together with a senior Israeli official, in tacit recognition of Israeli rights there.
Pompeo also underscored Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, saying that the US bears a “moral obligation” to combat “hostile forces” in the region.
At a press conference following a meeting with Pompeo last month, Netanyahu said he was working closely with the US “to roll back Iranian aggression” in the region and around the world. “There is no limitation to our freedom of action and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions,” he said.
Netanyahu has previously spotlighted Hezbollah missile sites in Lebanon to world leaders.
In a September 2018 speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu displayed a map pinpointing the location of the Hezbollah missile sites near Beirut’s airport, and accused the terror group of “deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields.”
Netanyahu later said that Hezbollah closed the facilities he had revealed to the United Nations.