|Date: Oct 2, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Netanyahu’s lies a prelude to war: Bassil|
|Timour Azhari & Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Monday told Beirut-based diplomats that Israeli fabrications over Hezbollah missile sites near the capital’s airport were a prelude to an attack on Lebanon.
Bassil was speaking before taking dozens of foreign ambassadors and diplomats on a tour of a football stadium alleged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be a site for Hezbollah precision missiles. The tour was aimed at rebutting any claims of precision-missile sites in the area.
“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.
He said the tour had a two-fold intention: to tell Hezbollah that it was not acceptable for it to have precision missile sites in the area, “and to tell Netanyahu this is another lie.”
“It’s true there are many statements made affirming the possession of precision missiles by Hezbollah, but this does not mean those sites are in the vicinity of Beirut airport,” Bassil said.
In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday, Netanyahu claimed there were three precision missile sites near Beirut’s airport: one near the waterfront in Ouzai, one adjacent to the airport and one at the Ahed Stadium.
Despite telling foreign ambassadors and the press that they would be taken to all three sites, the three-hour tour, which was characterized by disorganization, only went to the Ahed Stadium.
“This is the football field that was mentioned by Netanyahu and as you can see, you can tour anywhere you want,” Bassil said, arriving as players of the reigning back-to-back league champions Ahed were training. Ahed club President Tamim Sleiman welcomed the diplomatic tour, saying: “We are a sports club ... whose main focus is on youth and to educate this generation.”
Sleiman said the club was open to anyone wanting to tour the site, adding the field was funded by international football federation FIFA. He showed the visitors a dorm complex for the players and the underground gym.
At the complex, The Daily Star asked Russia’s envoy to Lebanon if he believed Netanyahu’s claims to be true.
As he snapped pictures of the field, Alexander Zasypkin laughed, shrugged his shoulders and said: “Look around here.”
Speaking from beside the field, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Jalal Firouznia told The Daily Star: “The places we are visiting prove Netanyahu wrong. Didn’t he say there were missiles here? Did you see any? I think the initiative today was good, and the response should be diplomatic, and this was a successful diplomatic tour.”
Tunisian Ambassador Karim Boudali told The Daily Star, “From everything we have seen today, all signs show this is a civilian area,” while Malaysian Third Secretary Setiadi Tachmadi, who was representing the country’s ambassador, said: “I don’t think there are missiles here if there were, I don’t think we’d be here.”
Players on the Ahed team, which enjoys a wide Shiite support base, laughed off Netanyahu’s claims.
“We don’t get involved in politics man, but this is a joke,” one said.
Another player said sarcastically: “Yes, last week three or four rockets hit us while we were training. This is the lamest joke of 2018.”
A third said: “The only rockets here are the ones I shoot into the goal.”
After visiting the football field, Bassil led the ambassadors to a nearby warehouse and gave a speech, telling reporters, “With sound and video you can see there is nothing here,” but no media had been let inside the warehouse. The Daily Star asked Bassil to open the premises, a request he obliged. Once inside, The Daily Star did not see any explicit signs that the warehouse contained a missile site.
Bassil noted Israel had violated Lebanon’s land, sea and air sovereignty 1,417 times in the past eight months. “This is Israel’s record in the international community, yet the Israeli prime minister uses the U.N. to justify another violation of U.N. resolutions and to justify another aggression on a sovereign country like Lebanon.”
The Daily Star then asked Bassil what assurances the international community had that there were no other missile sites, precision or not, in the area. He responded: “I would say that it’s not our affair, us in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to go and survey the region over there. I can assure [you] by common sense and logic, and counting on the wisdom of the Lebanese, that there are no such missiles. Here in particular we are just refuting the allegations made by Netanyahu.”
Zasypkin had earlier from the conference hall told The Daily Star that the tour was “very important, because in the past years we have gotten used to statements from all sides, made without any convincing evidence.”
He said Israel was worried of the change in the balance of power in the region, especially in Syria, with the “strengthening of the axis of the resistance.” But he added that Russia’s effort in returning the Syrian army to border areas near Israel had eased some tensions.
The meet was attended by more than 50 diplomats, including representatives of the U.K., France, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.
U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard was not present, apparently because she was traveling, but no other representative was sent. The U.S. is a key strategic ally to Israel but also a partner to Lebanon.
After the tour, Reuters reported that Netanyahu released a statement saying: “The ambassadors should ask themselves why they waited three days until they carried out the tour. Hezbollah regularly makes sure to clean up sites that have been exposed.”