U.S. Rejects Israel’s Request for Sanctions on Lebanon Over Hezbollah Tunnels

Netanyahu had reportedly asked Pompeo to put pressure on Lebanon to take responsibility for violating the terms of an agreement signed after the Second Lebanon War

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels, December 3, 2018.
Gabi Farkash

The United States has rebuffed Israel’s request to impose sanctions on Lebanon and the Lebanese army so they would take responsibility for Hezbollah digging tunnels into Israel and violating UN Resolution 1701.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday that it had located another cross-border tunnel originating in Lebanon – the third tunnel whose discovery the army has made public.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested sanctions when he met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last week. While the United States refused to equate Hezbollah with the Lebanese state, it agreed to draw up harsh sanctions that would put pressure on the group, which is struggling financially.

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During his conversation with Pompeo the day before the launching of Operation Northern Shield against the tunnels, Netanyahu also asked Washington to impose sanctions on Lebanon so it would take responsibility for violating the agreement signed after the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Since the operation began, Israeli political and military leaders have been trying to make it look as if Lebanon and Hezbollah were one and the same. From the start, the IDF spokesman has been stating that “the responsibility for the tunnel digging by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon rests with the Lebanese government.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett agrees. “Hezbollah equals Lebanon. Israel no longer has to treat Hezbollah as an entity separate from Lebanon, as we did during the Second Lebanon War,” he said, adding that Hezbollah has become “a major part of the sovereign state of Lebanon.”

But the Americans reject Israel’s formula, saying that despite Israel’s right to defend itself, the problem is Hezbollah – therefore the agreement for sanctions against the organization directly. Washington made clear that the United States and Lebanon have close military ties and there is no interest in undermining them.

Thus, during Netanyahu’s tour of the northern border a few days later, he softened his remarks about Lebanon, saying that “Israel expects an unequivocal condemnation of Hezbollah and the imposition of additional sanctions on Hezbollah,” with the Lebanese government no longer letting Hezbollah use its territory for attacks on Israel.

Regarding the new tunnel, whose exact location was not revealed, the army said it posed no threat to Israelis. IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said that the route, “like the other routes, has been booby-trapped by the IDF, and anyone entering it from the Lebanese side puts his life at risk.”

He noted that the IDF was examining the tunnel and added that “responsibility for the digging of tunnels from Lebanese territory rests with the Lebanese government. We’re talking about a serious violation of Resolution 1701 and Israel’s sovereignty.”

Netanyahu held a security assessment at Northern Command headquarters with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Northern Command chief Yoel Strick and other senior commanders.

“Hezbollah thought it was digging without interruption. We knew and we planned and it didn’t leak,” Netanyahu said. “The operation will continue as necessary and is proceeding at a good pace, even a little ahead of schedule.”

Netanyahu rejected attempts to play down the importance of the operation. “Think if we weren’t doing this; think of how on a cloudy, foggy day Hezbollah would emerge from the tunnels and kidnap our people,” he said.

“Think of what Israel’s situation would be with Hezbollah campaigns of killing and kidnapping on our territory, something that hasn’t happened since ‘48. Understand that we’re talking about a very important step. Attempts to dismiss or belittle it are ridiculous.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Tuesday he had been informed by Washington that Israel does not have offensive intentions against his country, thus Lebanon had no such intentions either. “There is no danger to the quiet along Lebanon’s southern border,” he said. “We are waiting for the results of the investigation into the tunnels to formulate a position.”

On Saturday, the IDF revealed that a second cross-border tunnel had been discovered. Manelis said work on that tunnel had been going on “right up to the last few days,” though the tunnel was not yet operational. Operation Northern Shield, launched at the beginning of last week, is expected to continue for several weeks.