JERUSALEM, Israel – Ahead of the UN Security Council meeting on Hezbollah Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out Israel's complaint against the Iranian-backed terror organization and called on the Security Council to condemn the group.
UN Security Council, Screen Capture, AP
Netanyahu said the Hezbollah tunnels dug under the border into Israel, uncovered over the past few weeks, are part of the Iranian web of aggression. He called on the UN to take action against the terror organization.
Israel has uncovered four Hezbollah tunnels that cut into Israeli territory. He said the tunnels were intended to kidnap and murder civilians and conquer part of the Galilee.
Hezbollah Tunnel Opening, Screen Capture, AP
"That is not merely an act of aggression. It's an act of war – part of a war plan, I would say, part of a war plan that's been confirmed by UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]. UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of these tunnels, and they have said they represent a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701," Netanyahu said.
Following the 2006, Israeli-Hezbollah war, UNIFIL was given a peacekeeping mission, which included keeping Hezbollah and its weapons out of southern Lebanon.
Earlier this week, a UN spokesman confirmed the existence of the tunnels.
"Based on the UN's independent assessment, the peacekeepers have so far confirmed the existence of all the four tunnels close to the Blue Line in northern Israel. Further technical investigations conducted independently in accordance with its mandate, UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line. These constitute violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701," said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Netanyahu made his comments at a briefing ahead of a UN Security Council Meeting on Hezbollah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Screen Capture, AP
"Hezbollah is doing all this because Iran supports it in every way, including with money, money that it got from the flawed Iran deal and this is part of the Iranian web of aggression," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said Hezbollah was committing a "double war crime."
"It's targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Lebanese civilians. That's a double war crime," he said. "The people of Lebanon have to understand that Hezbollah is putting them in jeopardy. And we expect Lebanon to take action against this."
Lebanon fired back at Netanyahu's statements.
Ambassador Amal Mudallali. Screen Capture, AP
"Lebanese officials accorded the problem of the tunnels the utmost careful attention fearing, rightly so, that Israel might use it as a pretext to threaten the stability of Lebanon," Lebanese UN Ambassador Amal Mudallali said.
Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Explains
IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus explained how the IDF is approaching the tunnels.
"The context of our operation is Hezbollah's offensive plans – a plan that Hezbollah calls 'Conquering the Galilee' – and the aim of our operation is to deny Hezbollah the ability of achieving its goal to attack Israel," he said.
'Blue Line', Graphic, IDF
Conricus said the tunnels were supposed to have been Hezbollah's surprise weapon against Israel and one of the organization's best kept secrets.
"The IDF has been able to locate this tunnel by analyzing Hezbollah's aforementioned attack plan that they call 'Conquering the Galilee' by using sophisticated technology and by monitoring changes to the soil and terrain," he explained.
The fourth tunnel the IDF uncovered started in the Shi'ite village of Ramyeh and penetrated several meters into Israeli territory near the community of Zarit, Conricus said.
As an example, Conricus presented IDF photos of a tree that had been burnt in the midst of a forest in 2016 and what the area looked like the following year.
"This is a zoom in on that tree after it was burned and that of course was an indicative site for us to pay attention. We also saw signs of new trails being utilized in the area. All of this in addition to input from various specialists and a vast technology allowed us to locate and expose this attack tunnel," he said.
Conricus said Israel's operation to uncover tunnels would continue, using overt and covert methods until it is complete.
According to Netanyahu, Hezbollah is using every third house in villages in southern Lebanon.
Hold Iran and Hezbollah Accountable
He offered several suggestions, saying that the international community needs to hold both Iran and Lebanon accountable.
"I call on all the members of the Security Council to condemn Hezbollah's wanton acts of aggression, to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, to press for heightened sanctions against Hezbollah, to demand that Lebanon stop allowing its territory to be used as an act of aggression and its citizens to be used as pawns, to support Israel's right to defend itself against Iranian inspired and Iranian-conducted aggression," he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Calls on UNIFIL to Meet its Mandate, Screen Capture, AP
"I call on the Security Council to demand that UNIFIL fully meet its mandate and deepen its operations. This includes ensuring that UNIFIL has unrestrained access to any area in southern Lebanon, including private and public lands. That UNIFIL has the ability to get to any area quickly, before they cover up and destroy the evidence. That UNIFIL is not restricted by Hezbollah or the Lebanese army in any way and reports on any obstructions. And that UNIFIL provides detailed reports of any violations to the UN and to Israel in a timely manner.
Netanyahu said he did not believe the Lebanese Army knew about the tunnels in advance, but they do now.
He said he hoped the Security Council would stand up for peace, truth and security, and take the correct "moral action."
The UN said it viewed the tunnels as a matter of serious concern, a violation of UN Resolution 1701, and called on Lebanon to disable any tunnels crossing the border.
But it's likely the UN will stop short of meeting Netanyahu's demands.