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Lebanese PM says Israeli operation along border should not lead to escalation

Lebanese premier-designate Saad Hariri had a turbulent patch in 2017 when he announced his surprise resignation during a trip to Saudi Arabia
Bas CZERWINSKI (ANP/AFP)
Tensions carefully ease, as IDF operations to dismantle Hezbollah cross-border tunnels continue.

Lebanon's Prime Minister designate, Saad Hariri, said on Wednesday that the Israeli operation at the border should not lead to any escalation.

Underlining the fact the Lebanese army had the authority and responsibility to protect its borders, he blasted Israel for its “continued violation of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters.”

Hariri said the issue would be taken up with both UN General Secretariat and Security Council, but stressed his government's "commitment to the full obligations of Resolution 1701 and to the ongoing coordination and cooperation between Lebanese authorities and U.N. forces".

An unnamed Israeli security official was also quoted in the Israeli press saying the risk of a violent confrontation at the border had also been avoided. The IDF only commented to say that Israeli and Lebanese military representatives met as part of a UNIFIL-organized routine meeting exercise on Wednesday.

IDF

Israel on Tuesday announced the launch of "Operation Northern Shield" to destroy underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory.

The IDF emphasized that the tunnels it had discovered were not yet operational, though declined to indicate how many had been detected or how they would be destroyed.

At least one tunnel has so far been demolished under the framework of the operation. The tunnel, burrowed some 40 meters into Israeli territory, originated from underneath a house in the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila just north of the border and was equipped with electrical and communication lines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the network of Hezbollah "terror tunnels" were conceived as part of a broader plan to conquer parts of the Galilee region of northern Israel with the backing and financial support of its ally Iran.

Both the United States and Russia have backed the project, although Moscow warned against violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 -- which ended the 2006 Lebanon war -- during operational activities.

But some members of Israel's opposition (and at least one Hezbollah affiliate) charged that launch of the operation had been conspicuously timed so as to distract from a myriad of political and legal woes Netanyahu is currently engulfed in.

Netanyahu is seeking to hold his razor-thin governing coalition together after the shock resignation last month of defense minister Avigdor Liberman over a controversial Gaza ceasefire.

Liberman's exit left Netanyahu clinging to a one-seat majority in parliament, and with an added portfolio to his name.

The longtime Israeli leader has also faced mounting legal woes, with police on Sunday recommending that he and his wife Sara be indicted for bribery, the third such recommendation against the premier in recent months.

Jim Hollander/Pool via AP

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of over-dramatizing the army's discovery of Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon for political gain.

"We are not now in a situation where our soldiers are behind enemy lines," said Livni, who served as foreign minister during Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah.

"We are talking about engineering activity within the sovereign territory of the state of Israel," she added, accusing Netanyahu of "blowing the incident out of proportion."

"Therefore he made a defensive engineering event into a dramatic military operation," she said.

"This was done from two reasons -- either the prime minister is himself panicking or he wants to sow panic to justify his actions both in delaying elections and abandoning the residents of southern Israel."

IDF

The IDF has dismissed any suggestion of political influence in the operation.

Israel has significantly stepped up its defenses along the Lebanese border, out of concern that Hezbollah will emerge more battle-hardened from its costly involvement in the civil war in Syria.

Israel and Lebanon have been involved in a series of conflicts over the years and the two remain technically at war.

Since their last fought war in 2006, Hezbollah has strengthened its military capabilities significantly with an estimated arsenal of some 100,000 and 120,000 short-and medium-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred long-range missiles trained on the Jewish State.

Israel has also long warned that it believes Hezbollah intends to conduct cross-border raids in any future conflict with Israel, establishing a special forces unit -- known as the Radwan Unit -- with the specific goal of capturing an Israeli village near the border.

See also:

Analysis: Tunnels were the secret key to Hezbollah's plan to raid the Galilee

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