The US is pressuring Lebanon’s government to clear out a Hezbollah outpost set up within Israeli territory beyond the border fence between the countries, according to a Thursday report.
The Walla news site reported, citing four unidentified Israeli and American officials, that Jerusalem and Washington believe the outpost, comprised of several tents just north of the fence — but still within the internationally recognized territory of Israel — presents a serious risk of escalation along the border.
The report said Israel had conveyed a sharp message to Lebanon via the Americans that the outpost must be removed.
“Our goal is for the outpost not to be there,” an Israeli official was quoted as saying. “We prefer Hezbollah evacuate its people itself over us bombing them. We have made this clear to the US and the Americans made it clear to the Lebanese.”
The US State Department told Walla it would not comment on diplomatic conversations.
The outpost was set up by the Iran-backed terror group in early April on the Israeli side of the internationally recognized Blue Line in the contested Mount Dov region, an area claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria and also known as the Shebaa Farms. The UN and the Lebanese government have both since confirmed it sits south of the Blue Line.
Israel has been reported to have made efforts behind the scenes since that time to get the tents and operatives removed peacefully, but to no avail.
According to the Ynet news site, Israeli officials believe UN peacekeepers will not be able to act against the post and are looking to the US and France instead. The outlet claimed Israeli officials had set a deadline for the position to be removed, after which it will get rid of the tents itself, a move that could spark a wider conflagration.
In a recent letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan wrote that Hezbollah’s actions constitute a violation of UN Resolution 1701, enacted following the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and ratified by both countries. The resolution calls for armed groups besides the official Lebanese military and UNIFIL to remain north of the country’s Litani River.
The letter also contained photographs of the Lebanese position in Israel.
Furthermore, the former public security minister noted that Hezbollah has built 27 outposts along the Blue Line over the past year, and that he expects the UN to take action on the matter, as these positions also violate Resolution 1701.
Meanwhile, Lebanon also turned to the Security Council to accuse Israel of provocatively violating Lebanese air and sea sovereignty.
Israel and Lebanon do not have a formal border due to territorial disputes, but they largely abide by the UN-recognized Blue Line between the countries.
The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.
The IDF has been working on a new border wall with Lebanon to replace an aging fence in the area. The engineering work, which typically takes place to the north of Israel’s fence but within Israeli territory, has sparked several minor clashes on the border in recent months.
Work on the wall began in 2018. By 2020, the military and Defense Ministry Borders and Security Fence Directorate had completed only 15 kilometers (9 miles) of concrete walling along the approximately 130-kilometer (80-mile) border in order to protect the 22 adjacent Israeli villages.
The plan is to construct a barrier along the entire border — a project that would cost NIS 1.7 billion ($470 million).
UNIFIL has stepped in at times and stopped the engineering work after complaints by the Lebanese Army of Israeli forces allegedly crossing the Blue Line.
The new Hezbollah posts were believed to have been established by the terror group in response to the IDF engineering work.
UNIFIL has been in Lebanon since 1978. Composed of nearly 10,000 soldiers, it is deployed in the south of the country — a stronghold of Hezbollah — to maintain a barrier with Israel, as the two countries technically remain at war.
The Hezbollah terror group has long been the IDF’s most significant adversary on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.