By Natasha Mozgovaya and Reuters
Iran is providing Hezbollah militants with financing, training and sophisticated weaponry in an attempt to transform Lebanon into an "outpost for terror," Israel's UN ambassador said on Monday.
Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility last week for the launch of an unmanned drone which Israel shot down earlier this month after it flew 25 miles into the Jewish state, saying the aircraft's parts were manufactured in Iran and assembled in Lebanon.
"Iran has provided Hezbollah with the funds, training and advanced weapons to hijack the Lebanese state and transform it into an outpost for terror," Ambassador Ron Prosor told a UN Security Council debate on the situation in the Middle East.
"One does not need any further evidence that Hezbollah is a direct proxy of the Iranian regime," he told the 15-nation council. "Hezbollah's continued provocations could have devastating consequences for the region."
Susan Rice, U.S. envoy to the U.N. also spoke about Hezbollah in her speech, stressing its involvement in the Syrian President's brutal crackdown on the opposition forces. "Hezbollah's active and growing support for Assad's war exposes Hassan Nasrallah’s claims of promoting Lebanon’s national interest as nothing more than a deadly form of deception," Dr. Rice said. "The group’s leaders may try to change the subject by invoking hollow rhetoric about so-called resistance, but the truth is plain to see: Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Assad's killing machine and Hezbollah leaders continue to plot with Iran new measures to prop up a murderous and desperate dictator. We encourage the international community to counter Hezbollah's terrorist activity and do more to expose Hezbollah's deepening involvement in Assad's war."
Tensions have increased in the Middle East with Israel threatening to bomb the nuclear sites of Hezbollah's patron Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop Iranian nuclear activity the West says is meant to develop a weapons capability. Tehran says it is seeking only civilian nuclear energy.
Iran has threatened in turn to strike at U.S. military bases in the Middle East and retaliate against Israel if attacked.
Indirectly taking a swipe at the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah's traditional stronghold, Prosor said the group has amassed significant military capabilities in recent years.
"I know that there is no shortage of those willing to express their 'commitment to Israel's security' in these halls," Prosor said.
"Yet displays of commitment to Israel's security have been difficult to find over the past six years as Hezbollah has turned southern Lebanon into one giant storage facility for 50,000 missiles."
Hezbollah, a powerful Shi'ite Muslim militant and political group backed by Syria and Iran, was established with the help of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Hezbollah last fought Israel in 2006 during a 34-day war in which 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
Palestinians renew bid for UN recognition
Palestinians made a plea for non-member status, during the monthly debate on the Middle East, renewing their bid for UN recognition. To this Israel's Prosor responded with a warning. "Every Member State that lends it hand to supporting Palestinian unilateralism at the UN will be responsible for the grave consequences that follow. You will be encouraging the Palestinian leadership to intoxicate its people with fantasy when it needs to sober them up with reality – inflating a dangerous bubble that will inevitably burst. The PA devotes 6 percent of its budget to terrorist salaries and less than 1 percent to higher education. Instead of investing in their children’s future, they offer incentives for future terrorists. Instead of using their funds for nation building, they use them for nation sinking. The EU sends more than 500 million Euros in annual EU aid to the Palestinian Authority. How many taxpayers in London, Paris, Berlin and Lisbon know that some of their money is going to convicted terrorists with blood on their hands?”
Rice stressed the Obama administration's commitment to pursuing the two-state solution, but warned against unilateral steps saying that these "would only jeopardize the peace process and complicate efforts to return the parties to direct negotiations."
"Any efforts to use international forums to prejudge final status issues that can only be resolved directly by the parties will neither improve the daily lives of Palestinians nor foster the trust essential to make progress towards a two-state solution," Ambassador Rice said. While condemning the rocket fire from Gaza "in the strongest terms," she also said that "Israel should step up its efforts to deter, confront, and prosecute anti-Palestinian violence and extremist hate crimes, including vandalism at religious sites."
Ban Ki-moon: Hezbollah's launch of Iranian drone into Israel could lead to regional war
By Barak Ravid
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted an especially harsh report on the situation in Lebanon, including sharp criticism of Hezbollah, to the 15-member Security Council on Thursday.
The report, a copy of which was attained by Haaretz, warned that the Iranian drone launched into Israel by the organization earlier this month was a “reckless provocation” which could lead to a regional conflict.
The author of the report is Terje Rod-Larsen, the Secretary General’s special envoy for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, which called for the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon, the disbanding of all militias and the extension of the Lebanese government’s control over all Lebanese territory.
While the Syrian army did indeed leave Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Palestinian organizations did not disarm.
The report contains unprecedented criticism of Hezbollah, accusing the organization of involvement in Syria and warning that Hezbollah’s military capabilities “represent a key challenge to the safety of Lebanese civilians and to the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”
Hezbollah is the most significant armed militia in Lebanon, “reaching almost the capacities of a regular army,” the report notes.
“The maintenance by Hezbollah of sizeable sophisticated military capabilities outside the control of the government of Lebanon remains a matter of grave concern,” the report states, “particularly as it creates an atmosphere of intimidation in the country… [and] constitutes a threat to regional peace and stability. I urge Hezbollah not to engage in any militant activity inside or outside of Lebanon.”
Regarding the launch of the Iranian drone into Israel on October 6, the report calls it “a reckless provocation that could lead to a dangerous escalation threatening Lebanon’s stability.”
Ban added: “I call yet again upon the leadership of Hezbollah to disarm and limit its activities to that of a Lebanese political party… In a democratic state, it is a fundamental anomaly that a political party maintains its own militia.”
The secretary general called on the Lebanese government to use its army to take all necessary steps to foil Hezbollah's attempts at further armament and prevent it from developing military power “outside the authority of the state.”
Ban also accused Iran of arming the organization, saying: “Hezbollah maintains close ties with a number of regional states, in particular with the Islamic Republic of Iran... I call upon these states to encourage the transformation of the armed group into a solely political party and its disarmament.”
The report states that Hezbollah is involved in the Syrian civil war, fighting alongside the forces of the Assad regime. Citing credible reports, it points out that “such militant activities by Hezbollah in Syria contradict and undermine the dissociation policy of the government of Lebanon, of which Hezbollah is a coalition member. However, I am increasingly concerned that the increasing number of reports of activities in Syria by Hezbollah, a member of the governing coalition, could jeopardize this policy and ultimately Lebanon’s stability.”
The report also criticizes Israel and calls for halting the flight of Israel Air Force jets in Lebanese airspace. “I deplore Israel’s continued violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I call upon Israel to … cease its overflights of Lebanese airspace that undermine the credibility of Lebanese security services, and generate anxiety among the civilian population. They also greatly increase the risk of unintended consequences in a region that is already seething with tension.”