Israel Has Warned Iran It Won’t Tolerate Arms Factories in Lebanon

Using European messengers, Israel has stepped up diplomatic efforts to curb Hezbollah’s military activities in Lebanon

Israeli soldiers train with paintball guns in a base designed to look like a Lebanese village in preparation for potential conflict with Hezbollah, March 2017.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Israel has sent messages to Iran in the past few weeks through a number of European countries that have diplomatic relations with Tehran, warning that it would view with severity the establishment of arms production facilities for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

European diplomats with knowledge of the communications noted that Israel stressed it “will not tolerate” the establishment of Iranian arms factories for the Shi’ite force in Lebanon.

A senior Israeli official confirmed the claim and noted Israel has made clear to many Western nations that Iran’s support of Hezbollah is a central issue which should, according to Israel, be a focus of the international community’s attention.

The senior Israeli official said Israel thinks the establishment of Iranian arms factories in Lebanon could have severely destabilizing effects on the country.

“The Lebanese government cannot address this issue, so the address for dealing with it is found with other forces that have influence over the issue,” the senior Israeli official said.

Last March, the Kuwaiti Al Jarida newspaper reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had established arms production factories for Hezbollah. According to the report, the Lebanese group has operated and managed the factories itself for the past three months.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria on June 24, 2017.
JALAA MAREY/AFP

The Kuwaiti paper, which in the past served as a pipeline for the publication of information originating in Israel, quoted an Iranian defense source as saying that the factories can create different types of missiles, including those with a range of over 500 kilometers (310 miles), surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles that can carry explosives. According to the report, some of the arms were successfully tested in the Syrian civil war.

According to the report, the Iranian activities were a response to strikes attributed to Israel targeting weapons convoys intended for Hezbollah in Syria and a weapons factory for Hezbollah in Sudan.

Instead of transferring standard weapons to the organization in Lebanon, the Iranians established several factories capable of producing various components of rockets and other weapons.

To prevent an Israeli attack on the manufacturing of weapons, the factories were set up underground – more than 500 meters underground, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper – where they manufacture the weapons only in parts and not in their entirety.   

Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi confirmed the Kuwaiti report in a speech on Thursday, saying Hezbollah was setting up a weapons industry in Lebanon using Iranian know-how and transferring arms to the country’s south.

“Over the last year Iran has been working to set up independent production facilities for precise weaponry in Lebanon and Yemen. We cannot remain indifferent to this and we don’t,” he said.

A senior Israeli official noted that in recent months Israel has stepped up its diplomatic efforts to curb Hezbollah’s military activities in Lebanon, both through private channels and in the media. He said Israel is focusing on member states of the UN Security Council, which are responsible for implementing the Council’s Resolutions 1701 and 1559, which concern southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and dismantling Lebanese militias.

On a visit to New York a few weeks ago, Halevi briefed the ambassadors of the Security Council’s member states on the Iranian weapons factories in Lebanon.

He also told them of Hezbollah’s military activities in southern Lebanon under the guise of an environmentalist group, a violation of Resolution 1701.

Last week, Israeli ambassadors to the council’s member states were instructed to lodge formal complaints regarding this activity by Hezbollah. In addition, the Israeli delegation to the UN filed a letter with the UN secretary-general detailing Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon, and criticizing UNIFIL – the international peacekeeping force in the area – for not doing enough to stop these activities, or at least reporting on them.