US turns down Israeli request for Lebanon sanctions amid border tunnels row

Israel has 40 military sites on Lebanese border, satellite images reveal

FILE PHOTO: Lebanese soldiers stand near the border with Israel, at the village of Kfar Kila, in south Lebanon December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo

The United States believes Israel does not intend to start a conflict with neighbouring Lebanon and has reportedly refused a request by the Israeli government to impose sanctions on the small Mediterranean country.

The sanctions call came after the discovery of attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah militants across the Israeli border.

Israel on Tuesday said it had uncovered a third cross-border tunnel, which has yet to be inspected by Unifil peacekeepers.

Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper yesterday reported Israel has at least 40 military facilities on or adjacent to the Lebanese frontier, publishing satellite imagery posted on Russian mapping site Yandex.

Two are adjacent to Kfar Kila, near the two sites where Unifil recently confirmed the existence of tunnels that Israel claims Hezbollah dug for use in a future offensive.

The function and role of Israel’s military facilities was not immediately clear.

An Israeli military delegation headed to Russia yesterday to explain its tunnel operations along the border. The visit came a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels.

During the talks, Mr Pompeo reportedly turned down a demand by Mr Netanyahu to impose US sanctions on Lebanon because of what Israel says is the country’s responsibility for Hezbollah activity along the border, Haaretz reported yesterday, citing an unidentified senior Israeli official.

The US has routinely imposed sanctions on Hezbollah, but it has never sanctioned Lebanon, where the militant movement continues to have allies sitting in government.

The US is also a major backer of the Lebanese army and has provided $1.7 billion (Dh6.24bn) worth of aid and equipment to the military since 2007.

Washington told Lebanon that Israel has “no aggressive intentions”, when it comes to its tunnel operation, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said.


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Tuesday that “if Hezbollah makes the big mistake and decides in any way to harm us or to resist the operation we are conducting, it will be hit in a way it cannot even imagine”.

The prime minister, who visited the Israeli border on Tuesday, said that his country will make it “unequivocally clear” during talks with Russian officials that it maintains its right to act against Iran’s proxies.

Israel launched an operation on December 4 to destroy a series of tunnels built under its northern frontier.

Unifil has so far confirmed the presence of two tunnels along the border. The UN mission’s head, Italian officer, Maj Stefano Del Col, said he met Mr Aoun and Lebanon’s parliament speaker on Tuesday and had informed them that Unifil experts had inspected two tunnels near Metula, a town along the border in northern Israel.

“This is a serious matter and Unifil is working in close co-ordination with the parties both at the technical level as well as at the leadership level to ensure that all related facts are objectively determined and diligently addressed in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” Maj Del Col said.

The inspection of the tunnels, Maj Del Col said, was a “work in progress” and vowed that Unifil would “make every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding on this sensitive matter”.