Lebanon News

‘Israeli plans’ imperil defense strategy

Bou Saab and Aoun look at a map during a tour in Naqoura, April 24, 2019. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanon won’t be able to come up with a national defense strategy as long as there are “Israeli ambitions” for Lebanese waters and land, Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said Wednesday.

Lebanon’s government has been studying a national defense strategy that would bring Hezbollah’s arsenal under the control of the Army, which would then become the sole possessor of weapons, Bou Saab said during his first official tour of Lebanon’s southern border since assuming office.

During a news conference at the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura, the minister recalled that Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah had previously said that once the Army was strong enough, no one would aspire to carry out any missions on behalf of the Army.

“So as long as there are Israeli ambitions to take our land and waters, we can’t talk about a national defense strategy or a strong Army as the sole possessor of weapons,” Bou Saab said, implying that Hezbollah’s military capabilities were needed to defend against Israeli attacks in the interim.

“We all strive for the day when Lebanon is safe ... and for the Lebanese Army to be the only Army and for weapons to only be in the hands of the Lebanese Army,” added the defense minister, who is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah’s ally.

He went on to say that he “wanted to visit point B1 in Naqoura,” referring to an area just south of the town, “but I was not able to because the Israeli enemy put a fence in that area.” He added, “However, we are keen on demanding every [inch] of our land, whether through diplomacy or coordination with the United Nations.”

During a news conference later in the day in Maroun al-Ras, Bou Saab emphasized the goal for the Army to be the sole bearer of arms.

“We believe that the Army is the only one who must carry arms in the face of the Israeli enemy.”

Bou Saab also praised the work of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon to maintain stability, but criticized what he said was the lack of a response from the international community to daily Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

“It is not acceptable that we do not hear anything from the international community except for when a minor violation is committed by Lebanon, when a herder crosses the border or someone takes a photograph of the border,” Bou Saab said.

The Israelis “are violating land, waters and airspace, and nothing happens,” he said.

The state-run National News Agency reported earlier in the day that Israeli jets flew at low altitudes over the city of Sidon and other parts of the south.

Still, the minister refuted the idea that a war with Israel was possible in the summer.

“There are no indicators of war or any military operation,” the minister said, adding that UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col had confirmed this to him.

While in Naqoura, the defense minister also observed UNIFIL operations and checked up on the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 War between Hezbollah and Israel, local media said.

“We are doing a lot of activities with the Lebanese Armed Forces, our strategic partners, so it was a particular pleasure for me to demonstrate what we have done together, as well as to explore with the minister ways to further enhance our joint efforts toward the mandated objectives,” Del Col was quoted as saying in a UNIFIL statement.

Bou Saab had started his day in Tyre, meeting Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun.

Later in the day, Bou Saab flew over the village of Shebaa, near the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, on board a UNIFIL helicopter.

The NNA said he later touched down on the outskirts of the village of Kfar Shuba and visited the border area there before proceeding to Bint Jbeil via helicopter.

The defense minister also visited Nabatieh’s Adaisseh, Ain Ibl, Maroun al-Ras and Marjayoun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2019, on page 2.




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