Rivlin warns Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah or face a war neither side wants

Rivlin warns Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah or face a war neither side wants

President tells incoming French ambassador that Beirut bears responsibility for all of terror group’s actions

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday cautioned the Lebanese government that if it doesn’t stop Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel, the terror group will drag both countries into war.

Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, is also a major political actor in Lebanon and a key government backer in war-torn Syria.

“Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah action,” Rivlin told the incoming French ambassador to Israel, Eric Danon, during a ceremony upon receiving diplomatic credentials from several new ambassadors, his office said in a statement.

“We say clearly to the Lebanese government and its allies around the world: Hezbollah’s aggression must be stopped before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that neither Lebanon nor Israel want,” Rivlin said.

France, which formerly mandated Lebanon’s territory as a colony, maintains strong ties with the country and the French language is still widely spoken there.

Tensions with Hezbollah and its patron Iran have soared in recent weeks, after the Israel Defense Forces late last month thwarted an attempt by Iranian operatives in Syria — including two former Hezbollah members — to carry out an attack on northern Israel with armed drones and attacked their base. It also followed a drone attack in Beirut, attributed to Israel, that reportedly destroyed key components of a joint Hezbollah-Iran project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.

Hezbollah responded to the attacks by firing anti-tank missiles into northern Israel earlier this month, although Israel said no soldiers were injured in the incident.

Incoming French ambassador Eric Danon, left, with President Reuven Rivlin, center, during a ceremony to receive diplomatic credentials from new ambassadors at the President’s Residence, September 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin thanked Danon for France’s efforts toward regional security — which have included attempts to defuse tensions between the US and Iran — but warned him that “in recent weeks we have seen evidence of growing Iranian activity in Syria and Lebanon.”

“Israel will not tolerate threats to the safety of its citizens,” Rivlin said. “With the Iranians, Hezbollah is building factories to produce missiles to fire on Israel and that is something that Israel cannot afford. The government of Lebanon cannot make excuses that it is not its responsibility. Hezbollah is part of Lebanon, part of the government of Lebanon, part of the people of Lebanon.”

Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006, have indicated they do not want to go to war but appeared on a collision course due to recent violence.

Danon told Rivlin that “France tries to improve the situation in the region and bring stability and security to all its inhabitants.”

“Let me assure you that I am here to help in all aspects of our bilateral relations, to maintain the excellent relations between the countries, with particular attention to the security of the State of Israel,” Danon said.

During the ceremony, held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin welcomed new ambassadors from France, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Georgia and Slovenia as they began their terms in Israel.

“I look forward to welcoming you here in January for the ceremony marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” Rivlin told the envoys, referring to the notorious Nazi-operated concentration camp in Poland. “Your presence will strengthen the important bilateral relations between our countries and is an important part of the fight against anti-Semitism.”

The Israel Police Band played each ambassadors’ national anthem as they arrived and the diplomats reviewed an IDF honor guard.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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