Iran has stepped up efforts to ship precision-guided missile production equipment to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel warned on Thursday, despite the group long denying domestic manufacturing of projectiles.
However, the warning appeared a thinly vailed threat to Beirut that any Hezbollah response to an incident over the weekend in which two Israeli drones crashed in Beirut would be met with an escalatory strike. Lebanon has accused Israel of seeking pretexts for aggression.
Hezbollah and Israel, who last fought an all out war over 34-days in 2006, are on high alert. Tension has mounted since the two drones crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut. One fo the drones exploded, damaging a Hezbollah media centre.
However, Israel has briefed that the target of the operation was the group’s precision-guided missile project. Hezbollah has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and fired salvo after salvo at Israel in the last war.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said the group will retaliate.
Without claiming responsibility for the drone attack, the Israeli military went public with what it said were details about an extensive Iranian-sponsored project to provide Hezbollah with the means to produce precision-guided missiles.
Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said that in recent months, Iran has increased the pace of the project such that it was "faster in terms of buildings, facilities, locations, conversion and manufacturing facilities, and it means more people, operatives involved in doing so".
"It is time for them [the Lebanese government] to understand their responsibility and understand the fact that what they are letting Hezbollah and Iran do on Lebanese soil is their responsibility," Lt Col Conricus said.
"They are the ones who are complicit in endangering Lebanon and Lebanese civilians which Hezbollah and Iran are using as human shields."
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, himself an ally of Hezbollah since 2006, described the weekend drone incident in Beirut as “a declaration of war”.
The Lebanese army has been ordered to open fire on any Israeli drones that can be seen with the naked eye – the country has no radar warning systems to monitor aircraft. The move is itself an escalation as the Lebanese army and Israel did not directly fight during the 2006 conflict.