Israeli defense officials believe that Iran has resumed building a precision weapons factory in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, wrote in an article published Sunday. It was particularly unusual that the article was published on several Lebanese-owned websites and Arabic publications - including Voice of Beirut, Sputnik and Israeli radio's public Arabic broadcaster.
Half a year ago, senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defense minister, and the chief-of-staff, charged that Iran had begun to build plants to manufacture arms in Lebanon. Israel threatened on a number of occasions to bomb the plants, which it suspected were under construction.
According to the Israeli assessment, Iran wants to step up its efforts to improve the accuracy of Hezbollah's missiles and rockets and, as foreign media have reported, the Israeli Air Force has attacked some of the convoys smuggling precision weapons from Syria to Lebanon. This is something that Israel has indirectly admitted on several occasions. As a result, the Iranians have been seeking to get around this obstacle by transferring production facilities to Lebanon itself.
Last September, following the Israeli threats, it appeared that Iran had stopped work on the construction of the plants in Lebanon. Since then Israeli planes have on several occasions attacked military sites associated with the Iranians in Syria, according to foreign media reports. In September, a large weapons plant was bombed and in December, a base in the vicinity of Damascus built for Shi'ite militias operating under Iran's command was targeted. Now it seems Iran has resumed construction of the arms plants.
In the article, the IDF spokesman wrote: "Through the actions and inaction of the Lebanese authorities, Lebanon is turning into one big missile factory while much of the international community looks the other way. It's no longer about transfers of arms, money or advice. De facto, Iran has opened a new branch, the Lebanon branch -- Iran is here... Iran and Hezbollah are currently trying to build a precision missile factory."
With Iran's support, Manelis wrote, Hezbollah is building "terrorist infrastructure and plants to make arms under the nose of the Lebanese government."
Manelis' article is directed at the residents of Lebanon, but it is apparent that it is also directed to the attention of the governments of Lebanon and other countries in the region, particularly Iran and Syria. Israeli defense officials have been making use of this direct channel more often lately. A few months ago, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot gave his first interview to the Saudi-owned website Elaph.
Maj. General Yoav Mordechai, the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, often addresses Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip directly through his Facebook page and in interviews to Arabic-language media outlets. Now Manelis, the IDF spokesman, is putting the spotlight on several Israeli messages, notably the danger posed to the citizens of Lebanon if the IDF is required to act again Hezbollah's efforts to become stronger militarily.
"If I had to choose my picture of the year on the Lebanese front, I would go back to the joint tour by the commander of the southern Lebanon front of Hezbollah and his friend, the commander of one of the Shi'ite militias loyal to Iran, Qais al-Khazali," Manelis wrote. "The picture expresses, better than anything else, Iranian involvement in Lebanon and lifts the curtain over the increasing reality of closer Iranian control in Lebanon. It's clear that 'terrorist tourism' is the tangible expression of the danger to the future of Lebanon and of the entire region – the danger of a takeover by those doing Tehran's bidding."
"The year 2017 was relatively quiet on the Lebanon front, as were the previous eleven years since the Second Lebanon War ended," Manelis wrote. "This quiet has served people on both sides [of the border]. The fact that northern Israel and southern Lebanon both have children in the sixth grade who never heard a [missile] warning siren is the most significant achievement of the Second Lebanon War and the best proof of the stability of Israeli deterrence, and of the memory etched into Lebanese minds of the magnitude of the mistake made last time by [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah."
Manelis enumerated the Israeli army's operational and intelligence preparations ahead of another possible war in Lebanon, and accused Hezbollah of involvement in terrorism and subversive activity throughout the Middle East. "Wherever there has been instability, we have discovered Iran's fingerprints, and we have discovered Hezbollah's involvement everywhere," he wrote.
Manelis continued: "It sent thousands of fighters to Syria, stepped up the battles in Yemen with hundreds of advisers, and Nasrallah has even boasted of sending anti-tank missiles to Gaza and also met with representatives of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, who this year also became his neighbors in Dahiya in Beirut.''
"Hezbollah members continue to patrol the border with Israel, wearing civilian clothing. In addition, Hezbollah is trying to recruit and operate officers and soldiers from the Lebanese army to achieve its aims," Manelis wrote. "Shamelessly, Hezbollah even invited journalists for a special tour [of the border] to show its 'scorn' for Lebanon sovereignty and UN Security Council resolutions. These violations do not threaten us. On the contrary, the distance between a violation that ends in a report to the United Nations and a violation that leads to a security deterioration is first and foremost, an Israeli decision," he wrote.
Hezbollah's actions are turning Lebanon into a "powder keg" that its people are living around, Manelis warned. "One of every three or four homes in southern Lebanon is a command post, position, weapons warehouse or hiding place for Hezbollah. We know these assets and will know how to attack them accurately if necessary. The future of the people of Lebanon is to be pawns in the hands of the dictator from Tehran. Those same heads of villages, towns, cities and government institutions who see what is going on and say nothing are also to blame."
He warned the Lebanese that Iran "is playing with their safety and future" and added that 2018 will be a test when it comes to how Lebanon is shaped -- as a stable and economically prosperous country or an arm of Lebanon and Hezbollah. Manelis made mention of Lebanese hopes for developing offshore Mediterranean natural gas fields and contrasted that with the possibility that Iran would send more armed Shi'ite militias into Lebanese territory and that the region would sink into war.
"The battle depends on two parameters," Manelis wrote, "Whether Lebanon and the international community will permit Iran and Hezbollah to exploit the naivete of the Lebanese leaders and set up a precision missile plant, as they are currently trying to do; and whether Hezbollah, under the auspices of the new election system, will manage to elbow out the Sunni camp in the upcoming May 2018 elections and officially turn the country into an Iranian client state." The Israeli army, he wrote, "is ready and prepared for any scenario and will be improving its readiness this year."
"As we have proved in recent years, and as those who need to know do know, our red lines regarding our security are clear, and we prove it every week," he wrote.