Lieberman on Possible War in Lebanon: If Israelis Are Forced Into Bomb Shelters, All of Beirut Will Be Too

Israeli defense minister says escalated tensions along the northern border could lead to a conflict, in which Israel would consider deploying boots on the ground

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman near the Gaza border, January 31, 2018.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman near the Gaza border, January 31, 2018.Credit: \ Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday commented on the possibility of conflict with Lebanon breaking out, saying that Israeli soldiers may have to operate deep in Lebanese territory and maneuver on the ground on the battlefield if war breaks out.

Lieberman's comments are the latest in a series of warnings from senior Israeli officials warning about Hezbollah's attempts to arm itself with precision missiles produced in Lebanon.

“Maneuvering is not a goal in itself. The goal is to end the war,” Lieberman said at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“No one is looking for adventures, but if we have no choice the goal is to end [the fighting] as quickly and as unequivocally as possible,” he added. “Regrettably, what we have in all the conflicts in the Middle East is that without soldiers on the ground it does not come to an end.”

“Such operations demand great effort and unfortunately casualties too. All options are open and I and not enslaved to any viewpoint,” he added. “We must prepare for maneuvering on the ground too, even if we do not use it.”

“We will do so with full strength. We must not take one step forward and one step backward. We will move forward as fast as possible,” said Lieberman.

“We will not see pictures like those from the Second Lebanon War in which the residents of Beirut were at the beach and in Tel Aviv [they were] in bomb shelters. If in Israel they sit in shelters, then in the next fighting all of Beirut will be in shelters.”

Speaking with reporters after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran's precision missile factories in Lebanon were already "in progress" and that he had stressed to his Russian counterpart that it is a threat Israel was not willing to accept.

According to Netanyahu, the Russians "fully understand our position and the seriousness with which we view such threats." He added that Israel's ties with the Kremlin are important for security coordination between the countries: "The Russian army is on our border and we have managed to preserve our interests and freedom to act [by] coordinating expectations."

“The Hezbollah terror organization is violating the UN Security Council resolutions, maintaining a military presence in the region, possessing weapons systems and increasing its military capabilities,” Gabi Eisenkot said Tuesday.

Israeli defense officials believe that Iran has resumed building a precision weapons factory in Lebanon, IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis wrote in an article published Sunday.

The manufacture of the missiles in Lebanon gives the IDF a problem that differs from its concerns about Syria. According to reports in the foreign media, the IDF has been striving in Syria in recent years to prevent smuggling, the stockpiling of warehouses and the manufacture of weapons earmarked for Hezbollah.

Israeli military and political leaders have thus sent messages, whether in articles by top IDF officers or in comments by leading ministers including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party.

For the IDF, an attack on the plants are a last resort, and preference will be given to clandestine activities, the exposure of the sites and a diplomatic effort to stop production at the plants. The IDF believes that an attack on the plants could worsen the situation to the point of a high-intensity conflict, as happened in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Sources in the IDF said this week that any operations in the area could lead to a war, as happened with the abduction of soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in 2006, an event that led to the Second Lebanon War. A similar event was the abduction of three yeshiva students in the West Bank in 2014, which sparked Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

In addition to missile production, the IDF is concerned about Hezbollah’s actions along the border. There are an estimated 240 villages in southern Lebanon that Hezbollah has turned into combat areas in the event of a war.

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