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December 12, 2018 No.
7801

In Lebanon, Criticism Of Hizbullah's Tunnels Into Israel: Hizbullah May Drag Lebanon Into War; The Lebanese Government Must Demand That Hizbullah Stop Violating UNSC Resolution 1701

On December 4, 2018, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy tunnels excavated by Hizbullah under its northern border, which constitutes a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701.[1] Two days later, a UNIFIL delegation visiting the location confirmed the existence of a tunnel there.[2] 

So far, Hizbullah has been careful to issue no official reactions on the matter of the tunnels. The pro-Hizbullah media have denied their existence and claimed that any statements to the contrary are lies.[3] In a threatening message conveyed via its media, Hizbullah included photos of Israeli soldiers at the border taken from the Lebanese side to show that the soldiers are within striking distance.[4]

Hizbullah elements, headed by Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Na'im Qassem, sought to reassure the Lebanese public with the argument that Hizbullah's deterrence capabilities  would dissuade Israel from carrying out an extensive attack in Lebanon. He said: "The Israeli home front is exposed as far as Tel Aviv, and there is not a single point in the Zionist entity that is not exposed to Hizbullah's missiles... The Israelis cannot withstand [a war], so the idea of [going to] war against Lebanon is inconceivable to them..."[5]

Lebanon's official position on the tunnels issue ranges from denying that they even exist to claiming that it is Israel that is violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701, while Lebanon is being careful to uphold it. Thus, Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun, a Hizbullah ally, said at a meeting with UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Stefano Del Col that Israel is violating the international resolutions, while his country is implementing Resolution 1701 and is opposing any activity that is likely to complicate the border situation.[6] Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon Nabih Berri, who is also an ally of Hizbullah, called Israel's claims baseless.[7] The Al-Nahar daily reported that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, another Hizbullah ally, had ordered his office to prepare a complaint to the UNSC about Israel's "repeated" violations against Lebanon. Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri, who opposes Hizbullah, also argued that it is Israel that is violating 1701, that the Lebanese Army is in charge of border security and legitimately controls the entire border, and that the Lebanese government is determined to meet its obligations regarding its sovereignty and the integrity of its border, and stresses that the rules that were created in accordance with Resolution 1701 must not be violated. He added that the developments on the border should not constitute a reason for escalation. [8]


IDF activity at the Lebanese border, from the Lebanese side. (Source:Central-media.org, December 11, 2018)

However, voices contradicting the official position have emerged, largely amongst the Christian community, criticizing Hizbullah for the tunnels and expressing apprehension about the ramifications this could have for Lebanon. The Lebanese government itself was also criticized for failing to enforce its control over Hizbullah and for its apparent ignorance of what Hizbullah is doing, which could drag the country into a war.

It should be noted that similar criticism was expressed by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmad Aal Khalifa, who according to one report represents the position of other Gulf states as well, headed by Saudi Arabia, which are known for their hostility towards Hizbullah.[9] Bin Ahmad tweeted: "Does the fact that the terrorist Hizbullah is excavating tunnels through the Lebanese border not constitute a clear threat to Lebanon 's stability – and is [Hizbullah] not a partner in ruling [the country]? Who will be responsible when the neighboring countries take it upon themselves to get rid of this danger that threatens them?" He also tweeted: "Lebanon has chosen 'to cut itself off'[10] from the Arabs, and now it is cutting itself off from itself and from peace at its border."[11]

This report reviews criticism in Lebanon of Hizbullah's tunnels under the Lebanon-Israel border:

Officials From Christian Parties: The Government Must Prevent Hizbullah Activity That Endangers Lebanon

Senior Christian politicians in Lebanon criticized both Hizbullah, which they said is endangering Lebanon with a war that could cost it dearly, and the government, which they said is ignorant of what Hizbullah is doing and what is happening on its sovereign soil. 

Samy Gemayel: "Hizbullah Has A Green Light To Do As It Wishes, And To Entangle The State In Problems"

Lebanese MP Samy Gemayel,  who heads the Phalange party, called on UNIFIL to intervene quickly and to examine the circumstances of the incident because it is "very dangerous, and the entire region cannot bear [the consequences] of mistakes of this kind."[12] He also criticized the Lebanese government: "None of the Lebanese state officials knows whether [the tunnels] exist or not, even though they are on Lebanese soil. Hizbullah has a green light to do as it wishes, and to entangle the state in problems to which we have no connection, and which the state has not decided on. The state will pay the price for them – as happened in the July 2006 war."[13]

Samir Geagea: "The Government Must Officially Ask Hizbullah To Stop All Activity That Can Endanger Lebanon"

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, called on the government to urgently discuss the developments in the south of the country. On December 6, 2018, even before UNIFIL confirmed the presence of a Hizbullah tunnel into Israeli territory, Geagea said that if UNIFIL confirmed Israel's claims, "the government must officially ask Hizbullah to stop all activity that can endanger Lebanon and the Lebanese and must again remind Hizbullah that the military and security decisions are in the hands of the government alone." He added that if Israel's claims about the tunnels turned out to be untrue, the Lebanese government must act against it on the diplomatic level among the UNSC members.[14] Several days later, after UNIFIL confirmed the existence of a tunnel, the party called on the Lebanese government to convene an immediate session and officially demand that Hizbullah stop this activity. In a statement it issued, it stressed that the government alone has the authority to decide on the methods of confronting Israel.[15]

Maronite Christian Organization: The State Must Warn Hizbullah Not To Expose Lebanon To Risky Adventures

In a December 10 announcement following a meeting discussing the ramifications of the discovery of the tunnels, the Maronite Saydet Al-Jabal Association[16] expressed its astonishment that the Lebanese state had no knowledge of "this dangerous matter" whose existence the UN had confirmed and that has "negative ramifications for Lebanon's stability and security, particularly for South Lebanon and its residents." The association also demanded to know what steps the state was taking to prevent the breaching of the international border and violations of Resolution 1701 besides the complaint it had filed with the UNSC against Israel. The announcement stated:

"Dare the president, the government, and all the official state apparatuses ask Hizbullah about the incidents [i.e. the digging of the tunnels]? The state is obligated to sue Israel, which is violating Lebanese sovereignty on the sea, in the air, and on land. The state is also obliged to stop Hizbullah from exposing Lebanon to risky ventures that can bring it into a war, whose price – destruction and ruin – will be paid by all of Lebanon; [war] usually ends with [someone] saying, 'If only I had known.'[17] If the Lebanese state continues to be lax about Hizbullah – which is acting in accordance with a regional agenda and against the Lebanese interest – then it would be better to demand the revocation of Resolution 1701, so that [Lebanon] will not bear the responsibility for its non-implementation, to the world and to the international community."[18]

Former Minister From Phalange Party: Hizbullah Is Endangering Lebanon; Its Violations Must Be Firmly Opposed

Saj'an Qazi, a former minister from the Phalange party, wrote in the Al-Jumhouriyya newspaper that the tunnels constituted a challenge to the Lebanese government and the UNIFIL forces before a challenge to Israel and the UN resolutions. He wrote: "This activity [i.e. Hizbullah's tunnels] has revealed to all the state's inability to govern in South Lebanon, and has also revealed that in [implementing] UNSC Resolution 1701, Lebanon, Hizbullah and Israel [all] settled for a ceasefire and have not implemented the resolution's 37 other clauses... Lebanon must ask Hizbullah why it is embroiling Lebanon in a new war plan, just as it submitted a useless complaint against Israel to the UN. It should also demand that the Lebanese Army locate the tunnel entrances in South Lebanon, just as it asked UNIFIL to confirm that the tunnels [indeed] reach Israeli territory...

"If Israel is preparing for war against Lebanon, why should we give it an excuse? If it is not preparing for war but is becoming accustomed to living alongside Hizbullah in the south, then why provoke it? Courage to tell the truth is preferable to courage to fight. Continuing to ignore Hizbullah's status – especially in South Lebanon but also in [the rest of] Lebanon and in the Middle East in general – will expose Lebanon, at some unknown time [in the future], to a war more devastating than that of July 2006. Whether Lebanon or Israel wins militarily, it is Lebanon that will be defeated, in light of the total destruction that it will suffer.

"Our mothers did not give birth to us for us to continue to fight, and our fathers did not establish the Lebanese entity for us to wage constant war. War is neither our fate nor our destiny. If war is forced upon us, we stand up [to fight], as we have done [in the past]. But we do not go looking for war with candles and in tunnels... We pray to live, to learn, to work, and to create. We pray to raise a family in happiness and peace and to establish a society based on brotherhood, national partnership, and equality... We pray to Allah to distance war from us...

"No group has the right to impose its will on the entire homeland and on the state with all its institutions. [No group has the right] to determine the fate of the nation as though it owned it. No group has the right to undermine the regime, the constitution, the presidency, and the government in order to promote a plan that contravenes Lebanon's interest...

"Hizbullah must sever its military connection with the regional battles and disputes, and must be bound by Resolution 1701 in South Lebanon – if it does not, Lebanon will be exposed to every possible military, economic and existential option [i.e. threat]. The time has come for us to oppose this without fear or evasion. [Even] if Hizbullah is indifferent to [the possibility of] an Israeli attack on the areas where it is present, we are defending our nation, our lives, our families, our institutions, and our state infrastructure, and the capital, South Lebanon, the Dahiya in Beirut, and our other regions.

"Our opposition to the [current] situation does not entail a confrontation with Hizbullah, which is the worst idea. It [merely] requires us to have the courage to tell Hizbullah, with affection and respect: As long as you refuse to place your weapons under [control of] the Lebanese Army, do not turn the weapons of the Lebanese Army into weapons that complement your own. As long as you do not sever your ties with [the other] countries of the region, sever your ties with the Lebanese state until you complete your military jihad. As long as you oppose Lebanon being neutral, neutralize Lebanon with regard to yourself, and protect it from the results of your non-neutrality."[19]    

Lebanese Journalists: Hizbullah Is Dragging Lebanon Into A War That Will Cost It Dearly

Criticism of Hizbullah's tunnels came also from Lebanese journalists. In the Al-Nahar daily, which is owned by the Christian Tueni family, columnist Rozana Bu Munsif wrote: "So far, Lebanon has held many cards in its complaint that Israel has violated Resolution 1701 by repeatedly infiltrating  Lebanese airspace. In a single moment, Lebanon is likely to lose those cards and [find itself] on the defensive as the result of Hizbullah's violation of the resolution – at a time when the Lebanese Army, together with UNIFIL, is responsible for the southern border."

Citing diplomatic sources, Bu Munsif wrote that the situation in Lebanon today was completely different from the situation that prevailed in the Arab arena in 2006, as reflected by the Bahraini foreign minister's position that largely represents that of the other Gulf states. She added that, according to the same diplomatic sources, "Israel cannot tolerate a defeat in any possible war. The same is true of Iran, which cannot afford a military defeat no matter what the cost. Even if Hizbullah could, with [Iran's] help, destroy some areas of Israel, it is Lebanon that would pay a heavy price for it – not to mention the damage Hizbullah itself is likely to be caused in such a war... [Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan] Nasrallah has said many times that his missiles will cause great destruction in Israel but he hasn't addressed what will happen in Lebanon [as a result]."[20]

In a tweet, Lebanese journalist Jerry Maher, who is known for his opposition to Hizbullah, called on the Lebanese government to allow the Lebanese army to take over Hizbullah's areas of influence if it wanted to prevent a war. He said that Hizbullah was violating Resolution 1701 and was threatening the lives of Lebanon's citizens.[21] He also tweeted: "Hizbullah is acting to drag Lebanon into a war in which all that remains of it will be destroyed in order to serve Iran's interests."[22]

Shi'ite Lebanese Journalist: Hizbullah Is Silent, Evading Responsibility For The Tunnels For Fear Of Conflict With Israel

Criticism of Hizbullah's behavior regarding the tunnels issue was also expressed by Shi'ite journalist Ali Al-Amin, editor of the Lebanese website Janoubia.com and well known for his opposition to Hizbullah. In an article in the London-based Al-Arab daily, he argued that while declaring that it is acting to liberate Jerusalem, Hizbullah is evading responsibility for excavating the tunnels at the Lebanon-Israel border because of its fear of a direct confrontation with Israel. He wrote:

"Hizbullah has not yet released any [official] position [in the matter of the tunnels]. It has neither confirmed nor denied its responsibility [for them]. While Israel has devoted itself to a diplomatic campaign aimed at presenting it as a country under attack, without showing any interest in a military response... Hizbullah is entrenched in silence, and has not acknowledged the existence [of the tunnels] or taken any responsibility for excavating them...

"Hizbullah's evasion or failure to address the tunnels issue underlines again that it is presenting itself as an element striving to reach Jerusalem via the occupied Palestinian areas but... is taking care not to deviate from the popular discourse of resistance to active involvement in the military resistance against Israel. [Unlike Hizbullah's situation], in the case of the Gaza tunnels to Egypt or towards the occupied Palestinian territories, not only have the Palestinian resistance organizations not hesitated to take responsibility, but have shown great interest in their achievements in this area.

"It appears that Hizbullah is today in a completely different place. It is very proud of its achievements against the armed opposition in Syria [claiming that this is being done] for the sake of Palestine. Moreover, it sees the battles to destroy Syria's cities and expel their residence as a way of liberating Jerusalem... But when it comes to a real conflict with Israel, as it did several days ago, we see that it hides behind the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and takes refuge in silence. It is dealing with the incident of [the discovery of the] tunnels as if it were an accusation, not as if it were something to be proud of, as it did with the 'liberation' of Homs, Daria, Al-Zabadani, or Al-Qalamoun [in Syria].

"Hizbullah is continuing to claim that the Lebanese state is weak and incapable, so as to justify its [possession of] weapons. It even accuses anyone calling for adhering to the international resolutions and for implementing them in Lebanon of collaborating with Israel... In contrast to all these violations [by Hizbullah] and its courage to confront the Syria revolution, there is complete silence regarding the tunnels... While [Hizbullah] takes refuge in the Lebanese state, the state institutions are apparently the last to know what it is doing and it continues to oppose letting these institutions be the primary authority regarding the requirements of Lebanese sovereignty..."[23]

 


[1] UNSC Resolution 1701, taken on August 11, 2006 with the aim of ending the war between Hizbullah and Israel that was triggered by the former's abduction of three Israeli soldiers, stipulates that neither Hizbullah nor the IDF may enter the area between the Israel-Lebanon border and the Litani River (un.org, August 11, 2018).

[2] Unifil.unmissions.org, December 6, 2018.

[3] See for example story on the pro-Hizbullah Al-Jadeed TV rejecting Israel's claim of a tunnel into Israel from the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila, Facebook.comAlJadeedOnline, December 5, 2018.

[4] Central-media.org, December 4 and 11, 2018.

[5] Elnashra.com, December 9, 2018.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), December 11, 2018.

[7] Almanar.com.lb, December 5, 2018.

[8] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 5, 2018.

[9] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 10, 2018.

[10] In August 2011, following UNSC discussions on the events in Syria, Lebanon – at the time headed by the administration of prime minister Najib Mikati comprising primarily allies of Syria, and also at the time a member of the UNSC  – took an official position of "disassociating itself from" events in Syria. The UNSC passed, 14 to 1 (Lebanon), a Presidential Statement condemning Syria. Lebanon "cut itself off" from the consensus, thus refraining from criticizing Syria, but also not thwarting the UNSC's condemnation. Since then, every Lebanese government has defined its policy as  one of "disassociating itself" from events in Syria and from the disputes in the region – meaning also from the Saudi-Iranian dispute. This solution, which is essentially refraining from taking a stand at all, has successfully bridged the tremendous gaps between the pro-Saudi camp in the country led by Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri and the pro-Iran camp led by Hizbullah.

[x] Twitter.com/khalidalkhalifa, December 8, 2018. 

[11] Twitter.com/khalidalkhalifa, December 8, 2018.

[12] Youtube.com/watch?v=Ok2Utc_Twas, December 5, 2018.

[13] Elnashra.com, December 9, 2018.

[14] Lebanese-forces.com, December 6, 2018.

[15] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 12, 2018.

[16] The organization was established in 2006 by the Maronite Church.

[17] A reference to Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah's admission at the end of the July 2006 war that had he known in advance that Israel's reaction to the capture of three of its solders would lead to war, he would not have ordered the operation. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), August 28, 2006.

[18] Saydeteljabal.org, December 10, 2018.

[19] Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), December 10, 2018.

[20] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 10, 2018.

[21] Twitter.com/jerrymahers, December 6, 2018.

[22] Twitter.com/jerrymahers, December 8, 2018.

[23] Al-Arab (London) December 11, 2018.