Netanyahu to UN Chief: Iran Building Precision Missile Factories in Syria and Lebanon

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 28, 2017.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday that Iran is building sites to produce precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon.

Speaking ahead their meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a "base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel." 

"It is also building sites to produce precision-guided missiles towards that end, in both Syria and in Lebanon. This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept," Netanyahu said.

Guterres vowed that he will "do everything in my capacity" to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations. The UN peacekeeping force's mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent what Israel says is Hezbollah building up its weapons.

"I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective," the UN chief said.

Guterres asked Netanyahu to take action to improve the state of the Palestinian economy, pursuant to the effort to revive of the peace process. The process should lead to improvement of the economy and to meet the social needs of the Palestinians so they realize peace pays, he explained. 

Netanyahu said that he appreciated Guterres' desire "to turn a new page" in the UN's relations with Israel, echoing statements made earlier that day by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during their meeting in Jerusalem August 28, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

All member nations of the UN are independent and define their positions based on their own values, Guterres said. As secretary general, he had a be "an honest broker" and treat all the same, and he will continue to do so, Guterres said. 

Guterres told Netanyahu, "As secretary general of the United Nations, I am totally committed to be ... adamant" in regards to Israel's right to exist.

The secretary general recalled his previous role in the peace process, mentioning a four-hour meeting meeting he had hosted as the prime minister of Portugal between the deputy Israeli prime minister at the time, Shimon Peres, and the head of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat, under the Ariel Sharon government. At the time, that meeting was secret. He said that, at that meeting, he had both witnessed "the commitment for peace and the difficulties of that commitment."

"I have always had a dream that I would be able to see in the Holy Land," Guterres said, "in which Jerusalem is clearly a city linked – deeply linked –  to three religions ... two states living together, in mutual recognition, but also in peace and security.

Speaking at the his residence in Jerusalem in his meeting with Guterres, Rivlin called on Guterres to take steps against the discrimination against Israel at the UN. The president said: "This targeting of Israel, this singling out of the world's only Jewish state, and even actions and statements that threaten to destroy Israel are unacceptable and should come at a price. No member state in the UN should be allowed to behave like that. These actions weaken cooperation between states and are against the rule of law."

Welcoming Guterres, Rivlin said: "The UN makes it possible for nation states to work together as equals, for the sake of all humanity. No one understands this better than us, Israelis."succeed and that there will be respect for all countries." 

In response, Guterres said in his remarks, "I started my visit in your beautiful country with a very moving visit at Yad Vashem. This important place reminds all of us that the Holocaust occurred not so very long ago and that we are continuing to witness expressions of anti-Semitism around the world by means of discrimination and persecution. Yad Vashem is a reminder to all of us that we must position ourselves as spearheads in the struggle against anti-Semitism and against all forms of racism, whatever they may be. A reminder that we must all promote understanding and dialogue. I am deeply appreciative of your obligation to this, Mr. President."

"I want to promise you, Mr. President," Guterres continued, "that in my term of office I intend to emphasize the principles of equality and objectivity which we are obligated to, among all of the member states of the United Nations.

"I believe that the calls for destroying Israel which you, Mr. President, spoke of," the UN chief added, "constitute modern anti-Semitism. But I am certain that you understand that sometimes there are between us and between the government of Israel differences of opinions, as happens with other governments. I know that we will always be very honest in the dialogue with the State of Israel and in our efforts to find a peaceful path in the region, while at the same time we will continue to ensure that anti-Semitism will not succeed and that there will be respect for all countries." 

Guterres arrived in Israel Sunday night on his first official visit. He met with U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt and discussed the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as possibilities to promote the peace process.

Guterres will also meet the families of soldiers missing in action in Gaza, although he is not expected to play a role in resolving this issue since he has no contact with Hamas and is not expected to meet its officials. Nevertheless, Israeli sources say he could indirectly pressure Hamas by appealing to Qatar and Egypt. Rivlin brought the matter up to the secretary general: "Hamas in Gaza must not be allowed to rebuild their weapons, and the world must call on Hamas, to return our sons. Return them home. To their families. I urge you to take this mission and to help us bring back our sons."

Earlier Monday, Guterres visited Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, and laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance. Guterres was joined by Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, who was elected to be the vice president of the General Assembly's 72nd session beginning in September. Dannon told the secretary general: "In these days when we witness shocking and dangerous manifestations of anti-Semitism, the entire world must stand up to anti-Semitism and condemn it."

On his first visit to the country since assuming his position at the head of the United Nations in January, the Portuguese-born academic and politician is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Scheduled to tour Gaza Wednesday, Guterres is expected to make overtures to ease restrictions on the coastal enclave.

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