Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says tunnels dug by Hezbollah – that start in Lebanon and run under the border with Israel – constitute an act of war.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu said four tunnels have been uncovered so far, at least some of which have been inspected by UN monitors, who have confirmed the tunnels represent a violation of UN resolution 1701, which ended the last war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.
Israel says Hezbollah, the Iran-funded militant group and political party, has been digging the tunnels in order to mount raids on Israeli communities living nearby.
Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of committing a double war crime: targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Lebanese civilians.
He said that every third house in southern Lebanon was being used by Hezbollah for aggressive purposes.
The Israeli Premier also said Lebanon was accountable for the actions of Hezbollah and had harsh words for the Lebanese army.
“They have failed to take action to control their own territory,” he said, adding, “they have not even tried.”
CNN has reached out to the Lebanese government for a response to Netanyahu’s remarks, and is waiting for a reply.
Hezbollah told CNN it had no comment to make.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement earlier Wednesday in response to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)’s confirmation of violations of Resolution 1701 in which it said the Lebanese army had been instructed to “take all necessary procedures to properly implement [Resolution 1701] … and … prevent the situation from worsening especially in the light of the tension at the border in the past few days.”
The Lebanese statement also drew attention to Israeli warplanes that have overflown Lebanese airspace to carry out Hezbollah airstrikes on targets in Syria, which UNIFIL says also constitute violations of Resolution 1701.
Israel rejects the comparison, calling its airstrikes an act of self-defense because Hezbollah says it wants to destroy Israel.
Iran was enabling Hezbollah to operate in this way, Netanyahu said, in part because of money it has received from the nuclear deal signed by Iran and world powers in 2015.
Earlier in December, the Israeli army said it was launching an operation dubbed “Northern Shield” along the roughly 120-kilometer northern border with Lebanon to “expose and thwart cross border tunnels.”
The Israeli military says “Northern Shield” is part of a bigger defense effort intended to secure Israel’s border. In the past few years, Israel has built a defense wall along sensitive portions of the border, moved earth to create cliff faces, and cleared vegetation.
Ahead of a Wednesday UN Security Council meeting to discuss Hezbollah and the tunnels Netanyahu said the international community should condemn Hezbollah’s “wanton acts of aggression” and designate the group in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
“Iran, Hezbollah and Lebanon should be held accountable by the international community,” he said.
Netanyahu has often targeted Hezbollah in recent speeches, including at the United Nations General Assembly in September, when he accused Hezbollah of placing missile facilities near residential neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital Beirut, a charge Hezbollah and the Lebanese government denied.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil dismissed Netanyahu’s accusations at the time and said Israel was trying to “justify another aggression” against Lebanon.
Earlier on Wednesday, at a conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu referenced those alleged missile facilities, when he claimed that Israel had succeeded in reducing Hezbollah’s arsenal of precision-guided missiles.
Hezbollah was planning to have thousands of such missiles, Netanyahu asserted, but currently the number they possessed could be counted in the tens.
“Those sites near the airport in Beirut, the underground sites for precision conversion of missiles, which (Israeli) military intelligence gave me, to uncover, those sites were closed,” Netanyahu said, adding, “They are trying to open new sites, but we are denying them precision-guided arms.”
Lebanon’s government has not yet responded to these claims.