Date: Oct 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon’s leaders united in face of Israeli allegations
Gasia Trtrian| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s warring politicians put aside their differences Tuesday, coming together to denounce Israeli allegations of Hezbollah missile sites near Beirut’s airport. President Michel Aoun vowed to confront any Israeli aggression against Lebanon’s sovereignty, as he met with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, according to a statement from Aoun’s office.

During the meeting at Baabda Palace, Aoun criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent allegations that Hezbollah was storing precision-guided missiles at three sites located near Beirut’s airport. Aoun rejected the claims, saying they “have no basis in truth,” and added that “it is a new Israeli threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and a target against our international airport.”

Aoun’s rebuttal of the claims came a day after his son-in law, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, led a televised tour of Ahed Stadium, one of the three alleged missile sites, accompanied by dozens of foreign ambassadors and diplomats.

“Israel is used to practicing fabrications as a prelude to its aggressions, but this time it chose to do it in front of an international audience,” Bassil told the diplomats at the Foreign Ministry just prior to the tour.

The president additionally informed Kneissl of Israel’s daily violations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, reiterating his country’s readiness to “confront any Israeli aggression on Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc was stern in its refusal of any potential escalation. Following the bloc’s weekly meeting, led by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, it insisted that Lebanon would not be a battleground for conflicts that are not its own. “Lebanon can’t be a part of foreign equations and axes,” a statement from Hariri’s office said. Hariri’s bloc called to maintain civil peace and solidarity, describing the two as “the strongest weapons” to counter Israel’s threats.

“Breaking national unity and national accord rules means handing over free gifts to the enemy,” the bloc warned, claiming that failing to unite would “place Lebanon and its people in the range of the dangers threatening it.”

Despite its calls for dissociation from regional conflict and opposition to escalations, the bloc did not shy away from calling out Israel on its charged remarks. “The [Future] bloc strongly condemns and rejects the threats made in Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations,” the statement said, suggesting that the Israeli premier had ulterior motives.

The statement warned against the “dangers” of the threats made by Israeli officials and claimed a backlash of responses would distance Lebanon from serious dialogue with the international community.

The FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc also placed the war of words with Israel at the fore of its discussions at its weekly meeting in Sin al-Fil, lead by Bassil.

“We at the [Strong Lebanon] bloc, like all Lebanese, can’t take the claims of Netanyahu ... lightly,” MP Elias Bou Saab was quoted as saying by the state-run National News Agency after the meeting.

Bou Saab said Bassil’s tour Monday was an important step taken by Lebanon, but criticized “some Lebanese reactions” for not representing a unified stance before an international audience. “It was important, for once, to reveal the lies of the Israeli enemy, which we all know does not need excuses [to attack Lebanon],” Bou Saab said.

“Instead of uniting to defend Lebanon ... we saw them take positions that [seek to] justify what [Israeli officials] were claiming.”

“If Israel is trying to attack ... then it will attack all of Lebanon from its north to its south, [not only the Free Patriotic Movement],” he said, though he dismissed the likeliness of an attack. “There is no longer the ease to attack, as in the past.”

“What’s required of Lebanese politicians, and some of these lone voices, is to stand with the Lebanese team and its diplomacy in one line, to defend Lebanese interests ... This doesn’t mean we claim there is an imminent danger for Lebanon tomorrow due to Israeli claims,” Bou Saad said. Additional reporting by Joseph Haboush