Russia backs Israel’s tunnel-busting op, calls for ‘restraint’

Moscow says Jerusalem has right to ‘prevent anyone from entering the country,’ but hopes IDF activities in the north won’t violate UN Resolution 1701

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, visits soldiers searching for Hezbollah attack tunnels on Israeli-Lebanese border on December 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, visits soldiers searching for Hezbollah attack tunnels on Israeli-Lebanese border on December 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Russia expressed tacit support on Wednesday for Israel’s current operation to expose Hezbollah’s cross-border attack tunnels, while calling on both sides to show restraint lest the volatile situation on the Lebanese border escalate.

“We do not question Israel’s right to ensure its national security, including by preventing anyone from entering the country,” the spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, told reporters in her weekly briefing.

“At the same time, we hope that no actions taken to achieve this purpose will be in conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which defines the rules of conduct for the parties on the Blue Line, which, I would also like to remind, is not an internationally recognized border.”

Israel argues that by digging tunnels with the intention to carry out terror attacks against Israeli civilians, the Shiite terror group was violating Resolution 1701.

Passed in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon War, that resolution called for, among other things, the “immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks” and for the group’s disarmament.

It also expressed its “strong support” for Lebanon’s “territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence” and called for respect of the Blue Line.

Zakharova went on to say that Moscow hoped that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) would “fulfill its monitoring mission and will not allow any violations.”

She called on all parties to “show the necessary responsibility and restraint, to avoid provocative steps and harsh statements that can further aggravate the tense situation.”

Russia does not consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Iran was directly funding Hezbollah’s tunnel building project, and claimed that its goal is to “attack and murder innocent Israeli men, women and children” as well as to capture parts of the Galilee.

“This is a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, and a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. It is an unacceptable act of wanton aggression,” Netanyahu said.

So far, only the US administration has expressed unequivocal support for Operation Northern Shield.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, on December 4, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Relations between Jerusalem and Moscow have been tense since a September 17 incident that saw a Syrian missile shoot down a Russian Il-20 plane during an Israeli attack in Syria’s Latakia area, resulting in the death of 15 Russian troops.

Moscow blames Israel for the incident, arguing that Israel’s F-16 jets were hiding behind the Russian spy plane, thus drawing the Syrian fire. Jerusalem rejects the accusation, insisting that the Israeli jets had returned to Israeli airspace by the time the Russian plane was hit.

Later this month, two senior Russian defense officials are scheduled to arrive in Israel for talks: Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Viktor Bondarev, who heads the council’s Defense and Security Committee. Bondarev is a former commander of the Russian air force.

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