Reporters denied access to Beirut airport area where weapons suspected to be stored

Tour of Rafic Hariri airport aimed at disproving allegations Hezbollah uses it to stock missiles is cut short as authorities keep journalists outside one of the buildings

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Planes at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
Planes at the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

A tour of Beirut airport arranged for journalists and ambassadors on Monday to prove that Hezbollah is not using it to store weapons was interrupted as reporters and cameramen were prevented from entering a cargo-handling area.

The Saudi news outlet Al-Hadath reported that Lebanese authorities banned media coverage from inside a building on the premises of the capital’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.

The tour had been arranged by Beirut’s Hezbollah-affiliated Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamieh to disprove a Sunday report by the British paper The Telegraph that said the Shiite terror group has stockpiled weapons coming from Iran at  the site.

The weapons reportedly include ballistic missiles, unguided artillery rockets, and laser-guided anti-tank guided missiles, as well as a highly explosive and toxic white powder known as RDX.

In response to the allegations, Hamieh held a press conference at the airport on Sunday, dismissing the “ridiculous” allegations and inviting journalists and ambassadors to take a tour of the airport’s facilities the following morning, to prove that “there is nothing to hide,” Lebanese media quoted the minister as saying.

During Monday’s tour, dozens of journalists and ambassadors were initially accompanied through a goods inspection area of the airport, but when they arrived at the following stop, the air cargo center, only diplomats were allowed inside the facility due to “organizational issues,” while journalists were prevented from entering by airport security and left outside, according to an Al-Hadath reporter.

The tour ended with Hamieh escorting the diplomats to the exit of the compound, the report said. Among them were ambassadors from the EU, Iran, Mexico and various Arab countries.

The report in The Telegraph on the presence of a weapons cache at Rafic Hariri International was based on revelations from airport staff, who said that weapons arrive at the airport on flights from Iran in “mysterious large boxes.”

According to the whistleblowers, the shipments from Iran have increased dramatically since the start of the war in Gaza, leading to fears that the airport could become a military target if war erupted between Israel and Hezbollah.

“If they keep bringing in these goods I’m not allowed to check, I really believe I’ll die from the explosion or I’ll die from Israel bombing ‘the goods,’” one of the whistleblowers said. “It’s not just us, it’s the ordinary people, the people coming in and out, going on holiday. If the airport is bombed, Lebanon is finished.”

One of the whistleblowers also said he had been seeing Wafiq Safa, a top Hezbollah commander and interlocutor with Lebanese security forces, come to customs frequently since October 7, and that he has close ties with the customs managers.

“I feel like if we don’t do what they say, our families will be in danger,” the whistleblower said.

A picture shows a view of Beirut International Airport on June 21, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

The Hezbollah lawmaker said at the airport Sunday that his office was in the process of filing a lawsuit against The Telegraph over the report, adding that details of the lawsuit would be “announced later.”

Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon in the absence of a negotiated move to push Hezbollah away from the border, after more than eight months of increasingly intense attacks on towns and military posts in northern Israel.

Days ago, Israel’s military said it had “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, even as the US works to prevent the fighting from spiraling into a full-blown war.

A smoke plume billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon on June 23, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he hoped a diplomatic solution could be reached but he would solve the problem “in a different way” if needed.

On Sunday, US Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of the powerful Hezbollah group there, and that US forces would be challenged to bolster Israel’s air defense umbrella.

Iran “would be more inclined to support Hezbollah” than it does the Hamas terror group in Gaza, “particularly if they felt that Hezbollah was being significantly threatened,” Brown said.

A top Iranian army commander threatened on Sunday that a harsh response awaits Israel should it invade Lebanon.

Iranian Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari (Foad Ashtari/Tasnim News Agency, Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0)

“Should the Zionist regime launch an attack on Lebanon and initiate a broad conflict with Hezbollah, the Axis of Resistance will not remain passive. A harsh and decisive response will be delivered to counter the Zionists’ malice,” said Kioumars Heydari, commander of Tehran’s army ground forces, according to reports in the Iranian media.

Heydari further stated that Tehran’s April 13 unprecedented aerial assault, in which it launched hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel in retaliation for the killing of a top Iranian commander in Damascus, “altered many old strategic formulas, leading to a new reality in the region,” and that Iran is emerging as a significant regional power.

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