Israel Sends Message to Lebanon in Bid to Ease Tensions: We Don’t Want Confrontation

A senior Lebanese official said that the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state clarified that Israel's border wall with Lebanon is 'no call for concern'

Lebanon as seen from the Israeli side of the border, next to Metula on February 8, 2018
Gil Eliahu

A U.S. envoy has assured Lebanon that Israel does not seek an escalation between the countries following a surge in hostile rhetoric in recent days, Lebanese and Israeli officials said on Thursday.

A senior Lebanese official said that David Satterfield – the U.S.’ acting assistant secretary of state, who visited the region last week – “held talks regarding the [border] wall with Israel, and said there is no call for concern and no direction toward escalation.”

A senior Israeli official said Satterfield relayed Israeli messages to Beirut about several matters of contention. “Our position has always been that we do not want to see the situation inflamed,” the official said, adding that at least two European countries were mediating, as well as the United States.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday that talks were underway with friendly states “to prevent Israeli greed” and pledged to “confront any attack” on Lebanese territory or waters.”

This followed a joint statement he issued on Wednesday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri that Lebanon would stop Israel from building the border wall, which Lebanon has described as an “aggression.”

The wall is being built near the UN-designated “blue line” between the two countries, which demarcated Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, between Metula and Misgav Am, and between the Hanita region and Rosh Hanikra. Lebanon has reservations about the location of the line in 13 areas.

The Lebanese leaders also stated they would act to stop Israel from oil and gas explorations in a field that Lebanon says is entirely inside Lebanese waters. Lebanon sees the drilling as a means to steal its natural resources.

The three said they “discussed threats on Israel’s part and see them [as] a threat to regional stability.”

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

“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,” Lieberman said.

“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.”

Last month, Lieberman said Hamas was trying to open up a new front against Israel, both in the West Bank and Gaza, but also from Lebanon.