Top Lebanese Politicians, Commentators Excoriate Hezbollah for Escalating Tensions With Israel Over Border Tunnels
A growing number of Lebanese politicians and political commentators are openly accusing Hezbollah — the Iranian regime’s Shi’a proxy — of endangering their country’s security in the wake of the discovery of tunnels dug by the terrorist organization under the border with Israel.
The discovery led the Israeli military to launch “Operation Northern Shield” last week, with the aim of locating and destroying all of Hezbollah’s tunnels. On Wednesday, the IDF announced that it had discovered a third Hezbollah tunnel.
The sharp escalation in tension between Israel and Hezbollah, which last fought a war in the summer of 2006, has generated considerable anxiety in Lebanon, particularly — but not exclusively — among the country’s Christian minority. Hezbollah and its political allies, who include Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, have steadfastly dodged taking responsibility for the tunnels, charging Israel instead with having violated UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought the six-week long conflict in 2006 to a close.
A survey of the Lebanese press over the last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute — a Washington, DC-based think tank — revealed several prominent politicians and opinion-formers angrily condemning Hezbollah and the Lebanese government over the tunnels.
Lebanese MP Samy Gemayel, who heads the Phalange party, called on UNIFIL — the UN’s peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon — to take a more active role in preventing Hezbollah’s cross-border provocations. Under the terms of Resolution 1701, Hezbollah is required to disarm and disband, with responsibility for Lebanon’s security exclusively the preserve of the country’s official armed forces.
Gemayel called the discovery of the Hezbollah tunnels “very dangerous, and the entire region cannot bear the consequences of mistakes of this kind.” He also criticized the Lebanese government, saying, “None of the Lebanese state officials know whether the tunnels exist or not, even though they are on Lebanese soil.” He added that Hezbollah “has a green light to do as it wishes,” and warned that Lebanon would end up having to “pay the price — as happened in the July 2006 war.”
In a harshly-worded statement, the Saydet Al-Jabal Association — a representative organization of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian minority — demanded that the Lebanese government crack down on Hezbollah, which now has up to 25,000 trained fighters under its command, and more than 100,000 missiles ranged along the border with Israel.
“Dare the president, the government, and all the official state apparatuses ask Hezbollah about the incidents [the digging of the tunnels]?” the statement asked.
It continued: “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 Hezbollah 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.”
In a column for the Al-Nahar daily, commentator Rozana Bu Munsif argued that Hezbollah’s actions had driven Lebanon into an awkward diplomatic corner.
“So far, Lebanon has held many cards in its complaint that Israel has violated Resolution 1701 by repeatedly infiltrating Lebanese airspace,” she wrote. “In a single moment, Lebanon is likely to lose those cards and find itself on the defensive as the result of Hezbollah’s violation of the resolution — at a time when the Lebanese Army, together with UNIFIL, is responsible for the southern border.”
Ali Al-Amin — a Shi’a journalist who edits the website Janoubia.com — argued in a piece for the London-based Al-Arab daily that Hezbollah was shying away from admitting responsibility for the tunnels out of fear of Israeli military retaliation.
Al-Amin remarked that Hezbollah was “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 residents as a way of liberating Jerusalem.”
But, he continued, “when it comes to a real conflict with Israel, as it did several days ago, we see that [Hezbollah] hides behind the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and takes refuge in silence.”