Israel has sent strongly-worded messages to Lebanon, delivered through France, warning of the consequences of continued efforts by Hezbollah to acquire precision-guided missiles.
The issue was discussed at length during a meeting on Wednesday between President Reuven Rivlin and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
Unusually, the meeting was also attended by the commander of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who presented the French president with maps and aerial photos detailing changes in Hezbollah’s deployment.
France has close relations with Lebanon and Macron is scheduled to make an official visit in early February, in which he’ll meet with Lebanese leaders. France’s position is that Lebanon’s government and army need bolstering, partly in order to offset Hezbollah’s growing power and influence.
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Israel, for its part, emphasizes the links between Lebanon’s government, army and Hezbollah. It has made repeated threats that in the event of war, Lebanon will pay a high price for allowing Hezbollah to operate from its territory.
Rivlin, whose moves are coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stressed Israel’s concern over the large rocket and missile arsenal Hezbollah has (estimated at 130,000 warheads), as well as the aggressive moves it has made, such as the digging of recently uncovered tunnels under the border with Israel. Most of all, what worries Israel is the efforts made by Iran and Hezbollah to improve the precision of the missiles the Lebanese organization holds.
Last September, in a speech at the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu disclosed photographs of three sites in which Israel says there was an attempt to build “precision-improving plants” for rockets, close to Beirut’s international airport. A few days later Hezbollah withdrew from those sites, but Israel is concerned that the factories are being relocated to other sites in Lebanon.
Norkin was invited to visit his French counterpart. In recent years, the ties between the two air forces have grown closer, with frequent joint training exercises. Rivlin also surveyed French air force facilities on his visit.
The direct and detailed discussion of these issues by the president and air force chief with their hosts seems to be a new approach to the problems on the northern front, which dispels to some extent the vagueness around the multiple attacks on sites in Syria. Netanyahu and former chief-of-staff Eisenkot related to these attacks in detail last week.
Rivlin told his hosts that Israel is acting against Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and against weapon smuggling to Hezbollah as part of exercising its right for self-defense, and if needed, the air force would strike again. It was clarified that Israel sees the high-precision missile factories in Lebanon as the biggest threat to its security, and will act to remove it if it sees fit to do so. Rivlin also said that upgrading Hezbollah’s arsenal by making missiles more precise is an immediate threat, which could cause great damage in the event of war.