Hezbollah motorcade taunts Israel on shared border

Dozens of the group's supporters paraded along the Lebanese-Israeli border amid heightened tensions

A screenshot of a video posted on Twitter by Israel Defense Forces
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Dozens of motorbike riders waiving yellow Hezbollah flags drove along the Lebanese-Israeli border on Sunday amid heightened tensions between Israel and both Lebanon and its dominant Iran-backed militia.

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported that 60 bikers took part in the protest which aimed at denouncing Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

"This is a symbolic step against the Israeli violations on our land", one of the bikers told Al Manar, a Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel which broadcast images of the motorcade driving between the Lebanese border towns of Kfar Kila and Adaisseh as Israeli soldiers looked on from a few meters away.

Behind the bikers and a fence that separates the two countries, Israeli excavation machines and trucks were visibly working on building a wall that has recently been a topic of dispute between the two countries that are officially at war. The last conflict occurred in 2006 and was triggered by Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. It lasted just over one month and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 Lebanese civilians and 120 Israeli soldiers.

The border wall is not the first built by Israel, which argues it must protect itself from Hezbollah incursions that have taken place in recent few years.

However, the location of the latest wall, between the Israeli kibbutz of Misgav Am and the southern Lebanese town of Adaisseh, is particularly sensitive.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil asked Lebanon's representative at the UN Security Council to file a complaint over it, arguing that it encroaches on Lebanese territory, the National News Agency reported mid-January.

"The Lebanese have expressed their reservations and we are currently addressing them during tripartite meetings", Andrea Tenenti, Unifil spokesperson, told The National.

No official border exists between Lebanon and Israel though they have both agreed to respect the so-called "blue line," which is the line that Israel withdrew to in 2000 after 24 years of occupation of South Lebanon.

According to Al Rai Chief international correspondent Elijah Magnier who is currently working on a book about Hezbollah, the biker parade’s objective was to “make fun of Israelis and express solidarity with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah” who jokingly referred to “flying motorbikes” in his interview in late January with Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV.

"They do not know how we will arrive," Mr Nasrallah is quoted as saying in reference to Israel in a transcript of the interview. "From above ground, from underground, from the sky, from high altitudes (…) Hezbollah has experience with flying on motorcycles."

The wall has not been the only source of tension between Lebanon and Israel in recent months.

In early December, Israeli authorities announced for the first time that they had uncovered cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah. At the time, Hezbollah-allied Lebanese officials dismissed Israel’s allegations as an attempt to distract Israeli public opinion from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic concerns.

However, Mr Nasrallah confirmed the existence of the tunnels in his January interview. He derided Israeli authorities, saying he was “surprised” they took so long to discover them.

As the motorbike parade was taking place on Saturday, Mr Netanyahu was briefing UN ambassadors about the tunnels. He later tweeted that "Hezbollah just joined the government of Lebanon; they actually control the government of Lebanon. It means that Iran controls the government of Lebanon," in reference to the Lebanese government formation deal struck last week after months of deadlock.

The Israeli military also weighed in on the motorcade. “Today, UN ambassadors saw a Hezbollah attack tunnel dug from Lebanon into Israel. While they were bearing witness to this violation of UNSCR 1701, a motorcade waving Hezbollah flags drove through southern Lebanon. Hezbollah isn't just violating 1701, it's making a mockery of it,” it tweeted.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was adopted following the 2006 conflict and called on Lebanese authorities to disarm non-government armed forces such as Hezbollah, which was the only Lebanese militia allowed to keep its weapons in the name of the fight against Israel, after the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990. This has never been implemented.