Rivlin warns Macron: Israel may have to hit Hezbollah rocket factories in Beirut

In Paris, president says Iran-backed terror group is manufacturing weapons under civilian cover in Lebanon’s capital, urges France to intervene

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

President Reuven Rivlin, right, is welcomed by French president Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 23, 2019. (Ludovic MARIN/AFP)
President Reuven Rivlin, right, is welcomed by French president Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 23, 2019. (Ludovic MARIN/AFP)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday told his French counterpart that Israel could be forced to strike the Hezbollah terror group’s rocket-building operations “in the heart of Beirut,” a development he warned would drag Lebanon into a punishing regional war that neither side wants.

Rivlin made the remarks during a meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace in Paris during an official visit to mark 70 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and France.

“If we are threatened from Lebanon, we will not stand by,” Rivlin told Macron, according a statement from his office. “Hezbollah is creating facilities to produce and convert precision-guided missiles in the heart of Beirut under civilian cover and with Iranian support.”

“This threatens Israeli security and could force us to respond, dragging the region into escalation that could badly harm Lebanon.”

The last major conflict between Israel and Lebanon was the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Rivlin stressed that Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for all military activity in its territory and urged Macron to use France’s diplomatic clout to convince Beirut to contain the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

“Lebanon bears sovereign responsibility for all Hezbollah actions,” he said. “France is a power with decisive influence in our region and it is vital that she understands that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese system. I expect France to exert whatever pressure necessary on the Lebanese government to display its sovereignty and rid itself of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement that could lead us to war.”

Pesident Reuven Rivlin, center left, stands with France’s President Emmanuel Macron on the steps of the Elysée Palace in Paris, January 23, 2019. (Haim Zach /GPO)

His warnings came as Israel went increasingly public about its airstrikes in Syria which, it says, have destroyed thousands of Hezbollah and Iranian targets in hundreds of missions in recent years.

Israel maintains that Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, is working to set up factories in Beirut to produce precision-guided missiles it will ultimately direct against the Jewish state.

“We say clearly to the Lebanese government and to 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,” said Rivlin.

Macron is scheduled to visit Lebanon in early February, the statement from Rivlin’s office said.

Israel has vowed to prevent Iran from transferring advanced weapons and missiles to Hezbollah, as well as from establishing a military foothold in Syria where Tehran’s proxy militias — including Hezbollah — are helping the Damascus regime end a civil war, now in its eighth year.

Commenting on other issues, Rivlin thanked Macron for France’s efforts in trying to secure the return of the remains of two IDF soldiers and two Israeli civilians believed held by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip. He also commended Macron for the French government’s stance against rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

“Your government’s position against anti-Semitism is particularly significant at a time when senior politicians, members of European governments, are no longer embarrassed to be anti-Semites or to rewrite history,” he said.

A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

During the press conference, Macron said that Israel’s security “remains for us one of the most important principles of regional security” and that he had expressed his concerns to Rivlin over recent rocket fire from Syria directed at Israel.

On Sunday, Israel intercepted a missile launched from Syria at the Golan Heights which it blamed on Iranian forces. Israel responded with a series of airstrikes against Iranian sites in Syria and Syrian air defense units.

“We will continue to keep Israeli interests… at the forefront of our mind and will make sure that our partners do the same,” Macron said.

The country’s Jewish community is “an inseparable part of French history and I am determined to continue and strengthen our fight against anti-Semitism, which is absolutely opposed our values and everything our democracy represents,” he added.

Rivlin and his wife attended a state dinner later in the evening.

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