Danon at UN: Intel Israel Passed to UNIFIL on Tunnels Reached Hezbollah

Russian envoy says both sides have to avoid escalation, hopes Israel won't breach international border ■ Lebanese ambassador: 'Israeli media right in questioning timing of operation'

File photo: UN peacekeepers observe Israeli excavators working near the southern border village of Mays al-Jabal, Lebanon, December 13, 2018.
Hussein Malla/AP

Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon presented new intelligence material against Hezbollah at a United Nations Security Council session on Wednesday, claiming that information given to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on attack tunnels entering its territory reached Hezbollah through officials in the Lebanese army.

Danon was speaking at a session requested by Israel and the United States after Israel discovered four such attack tunnels in recent weeks. 

The special session focused on breaches of Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and limits Hezbollah's activity in southern Lebanon, and came as part of an Israeli public diplomacy campaign against the Lebanese organization.

Danon presented aerial footage of what he called a "private compound" in Kafr Kela, a town in southern Lebanon located some 80 meters from the Blue Line, under which an attack tunnel crosses into Israel - passing meters away from a UNIFIL observation post.

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Danon said Israel "gave UNIFIL precise information about the location of the tunnel. After UNIFIL told the Lebanese army, it was then stopped when it tried to reach the area. Sources within the Lebanese army informed Hezbollah about the information, which enabled the terrorist organization to conceal the tunnel's operations and thwart Israel's defensive actions."

"Lebanese army officials are working for Hezbollah, while UNIFIL is not working to fulfill its mandate in the region in the necessary manner," added the ambassador.

Danon presented a second aerial photograph of Kafr Kela documenting Hezbollah's expansive terrorist infrastructure, including two tunnels crossing into Israel and two intelligence-gathering outposts and weapons' storage facilities.

Calling Kafr Kela "a terror terminal" on the Israeli border and within civilian population, Danon said Hezbollah is not only blatantly violating Resolution 1701, but persists in using Lebanese citizens as human shields. This, Danon added, is all financed by Iran. "If Hezbollah dares to attack Israel – we will bury it in the rubble of Lebanon," he said.

Danon also called upon the council to condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, as it did ISIS.

The Russian envoy at the Security Council said that Hezbollah attack tunnels were indeed discovered and that their existence was indeed acknowledged by UNIFIL. The Russian envoy said that while Moscow understood Israeli concerns, it believes that for the "sake of stability," all sides ought to refrain from an escalation and hold a dialogue.

Both sides, the Russian envoy stressed, have to stop breaching UN resolutions. The envoy added that Russia acknowledges Israel's right to protect itself but that it hopes that in doing so, it will not breach the Blue Line (the international border between Israel and Lebanon).

The envoy went on to say that Russia was pleased with signals from both sides that they are trying to avoid an escalation, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin heard as much from Netanyahu.

What we need now, the ambassador added, is responsible behavior to quell tensions.

Speaking after Russia, the Lebanese envoy said that current tensions are raising concerns in Lebanon as they evoke memories of traumas from "previous Israeli invasion."

She noted that Lebanon is taking the situation seriously and that it is not interested in an escalation: "These are not mere words," the envoy said, "but our real interest."

The Lebanese ambassador claimed that while Lebanon did not violate any UN resolutions, Israel has: "Over the past month, there have been at least 150 breaches" of resolutions.

The envoy further accused Israel of sending threatening messages to Lebanese citizens and causing panic. She addressed what she called a "double standard," asking why Israeli violations Lebanon reports are not being handled by the UN. The envoy also said that what Israel views as actions it carries out in self defense, Beirut sees as a threat.

The Israeli media is right by questioning the timing of the Israeli campaign to destroy Hezbollah tunnels, the envoy noted, before calling for a complete cease-fire.

France, Sweden and the Netherlands condemned the Hezbollah tunnels and called for them to be investigated by the Lebanese Armed Forces in cooperation with UNIFIL, to allow for long-term stability in the region.

China called for an independent inquiry of the tunnels, and called on both Israel and Hezbollah to avoid an escalation and promote stability. Unilateral actions from either side, said Chinese envoy Ma Zhaoxu, should be eschewed.

Ahead of the discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that the Lebanese Army, to the best of Israel's knowledge, was not aware of the tunnels being dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, but noted that Israel sees Lebanon responsible for demolishing them.

Danon also said Tuesday that after UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force on the Israeli-Lebanese border, "confirmed that Hezbollah's tunnels were an outright breach of 1701, the time has come for the Security Council to act, using all means, against the Hezbollah terror infrastructure that continues to grow stronger under the government of Lebanon."

In recent days, Netanyahu has been emphasizing his message that Hezbollah's tunnels breach Resolution 1701. Addressing Israeli ambassadors at a meeting last week at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu said the goal of exposing the tunnels was also to lead a diplomatic initiative against Hezbollah.

"The exposure of Hezbollah's terrorist tunnels on the northern border is part of an effort, which is not just military, but it is also a public diplomacy, economic and diplomatic effort to impose increased sanctions on Hezbollah, to designate all subdivisions of Hezbollah as one organization," he said in a statement.

"It is also necessary to increase sanctions on Iran, which is behind this organization and is also behind Hamas's similar attempts," he added in the statement on the website of the Prime Minister's Office. 

Netanyahu said these efforts would be seen at the Security Council session, but that "it is much more than that. You need to go country by country, foreign ministry by foreign ministry, government by government, and tell them: Take a stand here against Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Hezbollah flagrantly violated our sovereignty. Hezbollah is violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701. This is your time to act."

Speaking ahead of the discussion, Danon was asked about the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria, a move that was announced hours earlier.

Danon said that Israel would respect any U.S. decision, but that Jerusalem still had its qualms about Iranian presence in Syria and that Israel would continue to act —in collaboration with Americans and Russians —to protect its people if necessary.

Also Wednesday, Netanyahu said he spoke with Trump and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "The U.S. administration has told me that it was the president's intention to pull out their troops from Syria. They clarified that they have other ways to wield their influence in that arena," the premier stated. 

Netanyahu added that Israel will closely follow the time table of the American troops' withdrawl and what repercussions this move will have on Jerusalem. "In any case we will make sure to ensure the safety of Israel 
and protect ourselves from this arena."