Please convey to your governments what you see here and I think the obvious need to condemn unequivocally this aggression by Hezbollah and Iran and Lebanon that has to be accountable.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this morning (Thursday, 6 December 2018), met with foreign ambassadors in the north, close to the IDF units that are working to expose and neutralize the tunnels (click here). Following are his remarks to the ambassadors:
"Today you can appreciate the effectiveness, the murderous effectiveness of this instrument of terror tunnels, which I want to zoom into in a minute. What we’re facing is one big enemy. That enemy is called Iran. Iran is trying to act on two levels. One, to develop a nuclear arsenal. We’re dealing with that with other means, including exposing Iran, as we did their secret nuclear archives and their secret nuclear warehouse inside Iran, Tehran, and other means.\
The second thing that Iran is doing is developing conventional weapons against us and have declared war to annihilate Israel. They say so openly, every day. As part of that conventional effort they have two basic things that they do. One is they try to entrench themselves in Syria. We’ve been effectively fighting that, and I have to say that as a result of our efforts there’s been a reduction of dozens of percents, dozens, that means at least 24% in the Iranian forces in Syria, and as a result of American sanctions there’s also been a similar reduction in the budgets that go there.
We’ve been acting against them in Syria, as you know. Against them, against the Iranian-backed militias, and no less important against their attempts to bring sophisticated weapons and systems for precision guidance into Lebanon, either precision guided missiles or the systems to convert statistical missiles into precision guided missiles. We’re acting against it. So that’s the first thing.
Hezbollah breaks down into two main arms. One, missiles, two, tunnels. On the missiles, the statistical missiles we have our means of dealing but what they’re trying to do is develop precision guided weapons and we’re acting against that in the various efforts that we’ve blocked the transfer of these systems, not hermetically. Nasrallah planned to have by now thousands of precision guided missiles, in fact he has a few dozen, and that’s a result of the action that we do including the revelations that I revealed at the UN about their sites for conversion. Converting statistical missiles into precision guided missiles and basically knock them out. They’re knocked out.
The other effort that they’ve been doing secretly is building terror tunnels into our territory. These terror tunnels are different from the ones of Hamas. They’re similar but different. As you know, Hamas has been trying to do that. We have knocked out close to twenty and we’re going to systematically eliminate that weapon there. I believe they have afforded you the opportunity, I think that many of you have already used it to visit one such tunnel, and I’m very glad to see that today the UN General Assembly is going to, I hope, for the first time, condemn Hamas for doing this.
Hezbollah is also doing this, but with a twist. What Hezbollah wants to do is to have broader tunnels. If you look at the Hamas tunnels, they’re very narrow, basically for one person. The Hamas tunnels are broad. They enable several people to come at one and also to put motorcycles, I’m pretty sure tractors and so on. In order to bring in many forces, simultaneously, which means several battalions into our territory, with the purpose of cutting off communities here, towns, kibbutzim, and then going into a campaign of murder and kidnapping, which could happen simultaneously.
This is obviously a very powerful instrument in their war plan against Israel which they openly say, we want to destroy. We have found this now for several years and developed the technological and engineering capability to locate these tunnels and to neutralize them. We decided to act now, before this capacity, our capacity to identify and neutralize them matured, and it matured before their capacity, that would mature and they would have the option to do what I just described.
I want to spend time on the diplomatic and international repercussions of this. We asked for an urgent convening of the Security Council. The Secretary General told me that it would happen either at the end of this week or some time at the beginning of next week. We think that Hezbollah should be condemned forcefully and universally on this act of aggression. And again, this is a regime… This is an organization that openly says that their goal is to annihilate the State of Israel. They don’t hide it any more than he Iranians do, because of course they’re part and parcel of the same effort and the same ideology.
We think that there should be heightened sanctions on Hezbollah. We discussed this with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and I think there will be efforts that will be presented to the international community. We think that Hezbollah should be designated in its entirety as a terror organization, which is what it is, and not make artificial splits between its supposed parts. Lebanon should be put on the list because they’re saying nothing about this. They’re allowing their territory to be used in an act of aggression against a neighboring state, and they allow their citizens to be used as pawns.
Essentially Hezbollah is putting Lebanon at risk, but Lebanon is saying nothing. They’re not even protesting. And they should, and they should be told that they would pay the consequences, that they’ll be held accountable for not even whispering a protest. They should be acting in every way possible to stop this. They’re not.
These are the elements of the actions that we think should be taken with a view in mind that behind all this is of course Iran. There’s no question about it. And Iran has essentially overtaken Lebanon through Hezbollah. It’s trying to do the same in Syria. We are resisting it but I think the international community should resist it and condemn these clear acts of aggression.
Please convey to your governments what you see here and I think the obvious need to condemn unequivocally this aggression by Hezbollah and Iran and Lebanon that has to be accountable "
Prime Minister Netanyahu answered the ambassadors' questions.
Regarding the role of UNIFIL, the Prime Minister said:
"UNIFIL should expand its role, because evidently it’s not been done. UNIFIL is supposed to monitor, at the very least monitor if not stop, the transfer of weapons into Lebanon, into south Lebanon. And you know there were 15,000 rockets and missiles at the end of the Second Lebanon War. There’s about ten times that and we haven’t seen a single case, a single filing of a complaint or report by UNIFIL.
The commander of UNIFIL has said that there was no recorded violation. Look at this tunnel. That’s a clear act of recorded violation. We think UNIFIL should discharge its responsibility and actually do it with a much tougher approach and with a bigger force."
Regarding whether an escalation should be expected following the demolition of the tunnel, the Prime Minister said:
"We’re going to destroy more. My goal was first of all to dismantle these terror tunnels without getting into broad escalation. We passed a clear message of what we’re doing and so far I can’t tell you that the risk of escalation doesn’t exist but I don’t think it’s quite as… If you pass the first 24 or 48 hours, and we are there, without an escalation, I think the risk is much lower. It exists, we’re ready, we’re deployed, we’re all ready to go if we have to, but I’m not sure that Hezbollah will make the terrible mistake of testing our resolve and our preparedness."
Regarding the stability of the situation in the south, the Prime Minister said:
"It’s certainly more stable than it was before, because my goal there was to first get quiet and then see if we can have a longer term arrangement. The quiet was achieved, has been achieved but who knows how sustainable it would be. To achieve this quiet, we had to forcefully stop attempts by Hamas to invade our territory and attack our soldiers and our civilians. We did that. And also to take measures against their rocketing and so on of our towns and villages, communities next to Gaza. To do this we also had to account not only for the security but also how to prevent the humanitarian crisis that was exacerbated by Abu Mazen’s decisions to withhold the funds. That created a big hole there. The big hole was first created by Hamas that was taking an enormous part of its budget for the terror tunnels, but what was left was taken by Abu Mazen, so that created a second hole, very deep hole, and somebody had to fill this hole. And in order to fill it from the humanitarian point of view, the sewage is flowing into Ashkelon and so on because no one is treating it, and other things that could break out.
So how to stop that? Somebody had to bring in the funds and given that other countries, that Hamas, that Abu Mazen wasn’t going to do it and that other countries weren’t going to do it, Qatar agreed to do it, at least momentarily, so we said fine, and we have put some controls that we didn’t have under Abu Mazen on the funds. We give the list, of the people. They actually give to Qatar, and Qatar gives, passes on to us fingerprints, pictures, signatures so that the money doesn’t just go into anyone. And that’s where it is right now. Can we move from there to a long-term arrangement? I don’t know.
What a long-term arrangement would deal with is not just a cease-fire and passages and fishing but also having first the return of our soldiers, the bodies of our soldiers, and our civilians, the development of basic facilities, basic infrastructure in Gaza and a possible sea lane monitored by us from Cyprus to Gaza. I don’t know if we’ll get to that. We’ll see if the first part holds. Then we’ll see if we can get to the second part."
Regarding relations with the residents of Metula and their concerns about the tunnels, the Prime Minister said:
"We were hearing from communities all alongside the Lebanese border, they’re building tunnels, we don’t know, they’re coming under our homes. Now we’re telling them we do know. They must sigh a great sigh of relief because they see that we’re handling this matter just as we dismantled it in Gaza. And so we’ve moved. I think there’s one other point. You’re going to hear from Hezbollah today that Israel is the aggressive power and so on, and Israel is flying over Lebanon. So the answer is, first of all, we’re not the aggressive power, we didn’t say that we want to destroy Lebanon and this is not, our life’s goal is not to eradicate the people of Lebanon off the face of the earth. But that’s the goal of Hezbollah vis-à-vis the Jewish State of Israel. They say the whole thing. The second point is that we have a perfect right of preemptive self-defense to survey and collect intelligence against those who openly declare their goal to destroy us, and we do so. But what they’re doing is actually invading our ground, our territory. That’s what they’re doing and you can’t make a false symmetry between these two things."
The following ambassadors were in attendance: Emanele Giaufret – European Union, Anatoly Vikrorov – Russia, David Quarrey – Great Britain, Helene Le Gal – France, Deborah A. Lyons – Canada, Martin Weiss – Austria, Christopher Keith Cannan – Australia, Gianluigi Benedetti – Italy, Tsegay Berhe Hadera – Ethiopia, Paulo Vasconcellos – Brazil, Benko Levente Csongor – Hungary, Vhanga Patrice Koffi – Ivory Coast, Pablo Macedo – Mexico, Peter Hulenyi – Slovakia and Marek Grzegorz Magierowski – Poland.
Prime Minister Netanyahu at the at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Photo: GPO/Amos Ben Gershom