Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showing a diagram of what he said was Hezbollah terror group sites near Beirut during his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, of “brazenly lying” to the international community over the secret weapons facilities in and around Beirut, which the Israeli premier disclosed on the world stage at the United Nations General Assembly last week.
Netanyahu said in a statement Monday that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil took 73 foreign envoys on a “fraudulent propaganda tour” of the alleged missile sites, where he failed to show them the underground facilities where Hezbollah is reportedly storing precision-guided missiles.
“Hezbollah is brazenly lying to the international community by means of the fraudulent propaganda tour of the Lebanese foreign minister who took ambassadors to the soccer field [one of the alleged missile sites] but refrained from taking them to the nearby underground precision missile production facility,” Netanyahu said.
On Monday, Bassil led a group of the ambassadors around a pool complex and the sports stadium in a bid to disprove the Israeli accusations.
“Today Lebanon is raising [its] voice by addressing all countries of the world… to refute Israel’s allegations,” Bassil was quoted as saying. Israel’s Channel 10 news said Monday night that Lebanon feared Israel may attack the sites.
Netanyahu said the envoys “should ask themselves why [Lebanese authorities] waited three days to give them a tour.” The PM said in the September 27 address to the UN General Assembly that Hezbollah had secret missile conversion sites in and around Beirut.
One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.
These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles. Hezbollah, Netanyahu said, took pains to clear out the exposed facilities so that foreign diplomats could tour the area. “It’s saddening that the Lebanese government is sacrificing the safety of its citizens while covering for Hezbollah, which has taken Lebanon hostage in its aggression toward Israel,” said Netanyahu.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil gathers 73 foreign envoys and journalists at Al-Ahed stadium in Beirut’s southern suburbs on October 1, 2018 during a tour he organized of alleged missile sites around the Lebanese capital’s international airport, in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah movement has secret missile facilities there. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)
Earlier Monday, the Israeli military released a video noting that three days had passed since Netanyahu detailed the presence of the alleged facilities.
“In three days you can clear out a precision missile factory, invite foreign ambassadors, and hope that the world will fall for it.”
It urged the international community not to be duped by what it said were “Hezbollah’s lies.”
The Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, described the tour as “very good.”
“On the diplomatic and political spheres, there are many statements,” he told The Associated Press. “What we saw today are facts. There is a club and stadium. I can’t imagine a secret thing happening in these places. We saw that with our own eyes.”
In his UN address on Thursday, Netanyahu produced satellite imagery pinpointing the three sites being used by Hezbollah, accusing the Shiite terror group of using Beirut residents as human shields.
“So I also have a message for Hezbollah today: Israel knows, Israel also knows what you’re doing. Israel knows where you’re doing it. And Israel will not let you get away with it,” Netanyahu said.
Hezbollah, whose forces control south Lebanon bordering Israel and Beirut’s southern suburbs where the airport is located, has not officially reacted to the accusation.
Bassil on Monday lashed out at Israel, which he said had “violated our land, air, and marine space 1,417 times in the last eight months.”
Israel was attempting “to justify another violation of UN resolutions and to justify another aggression on a sovereign country,” he said.
The Jewish state has fought several conflicts against Hezbollah, the last in 2006.
Bassil said his government would not allow rocket facilities near the airport and that Hezbollah is “wiser” than to place them there. He said Netanyahu’s claims were based on “inaccurate” estimates without any “compelling evidence.”
“Lebanon demands that Israel ceases its madness,” he said.
Bassil said Monday’s tour, which included the ambassadors and several reporters, was not “a fact-finding mission,” but part of a “counter-diplomatic campaign” to rebut the allegations.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah recently boasted that his group now possesses “highly accurate” missiles despite Israeli attempts to prevent it from acquiring such weapons.
Bassil acknowledged Hezbollah’s claims, but said “this doesn’t mean that those missiles are present in the vicinity of Beirut airport.”
Soon after Netanyahu’s speech Thursday, the IDF released satellite images of the sites that it says are being used by Hezbollah to hide underground precision missile production facilities.
The sites are located within close proximity to the Beirut airport.
The factories, which are meant to convert regular missiles into more accurate precision ones, are not believed to be up and running. The Israeli military said the missiles are currently being constructed with Iranian assistance.
The target of last month’s Israeli airstrike, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.
According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.
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)
The army said the facilities are “another example of Iranian entrenchment in the region and the negative influence of Iran.”
Holding up aerial photos of the alleged Hezbollah facilities, Netanyahu warned: “Israel knows what you are doing, Israel knows where you are doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it.”
Netanyahu accused the Lebanese terror group of “deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields.”
According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.
Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017.
Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not tolerate such facilities.
In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we cannot accept this threat.
N.B: Attached image shows Lebanese security forces guard the entrance of Al-Ahed stadium in Beirut’s southern suburbs during a tour organized by the Lebanese foreign minister for ambassadors on October 1, 2018 of alleged missile sites around the Lebanese capital in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah movement has secret missile facilities there. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)