Thousands of residents in Beirut’s southern suburbs received WhatsApp messages overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, believed to have been sent by Israel, warning them that their homes are in close proximity to a Hezbollah weapons facility, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported on Wednesday night.
The alleged site is not one of the three alleged Hezbollah weapons factories exposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech to the UN last week, the TV report said.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had said Tuesday that Israel has information on additional Iranian and Hezbollah military sites and would release it at the appropriate time. However, Israeli military officials refused to comment on the exposure of the latest site, Channel 10 said.
It said the site described in the WhatsApp messages is in the heart of a residential area, close to a school, to the St. George’s Hospital and to the Spanish Embassy — which are in the Lebanese capital’s Hadath area. It speculated that the site, like the other three alleged Hezbollah facilities detailed by Netanyahu in his address to the UN General Assembly last Thursday, is a Hezbollah missile factory.
A WhatsApp message sent to thousands of Beirut residents warning of their homes’ proximity to a Hezbollah facility, as reported by Israel’s Channel 10 news, October 3, 2018 (Channel 10 screenshot)
The WhatsApp message sent overnight was unsigned. “Important message,” it reportedly stated. “Near your home, a site belonging to Hezbollah has been located for some time. You are advised to take precautionary measures.”
“Apparently Israel is working hard to keep this issue high on the Lebanese public agenda,” the Israeli TV report said, “perhaps in order to prompt Hezbollah to move those sites, which would produce further intelligence.”
The report said that the exposure of details regarding further sites was also now anticipated.
Liberman told journalists on Tuesday that Israel has “a lot of information at hand, and we are still choosing the right time to reveal [intelligence on additional] facilities both in Iran as well as in Beirut.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018, and holds up a placard detailing alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
In his UN speech, Netanyahu detailed an alleged “secret atomic warehouse” in Tehran and used placards to show the plenum what he said were three sites hidden near Beirut’s international airport housing precision missiles for the Hezbollah terror group.
“In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of ten meters,” he said.
“Hezbollah is deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields. They have placed three of these missile conversion sites alongside Beirut’s international airport,” he said, and added, “Israel knows what you are doing, Israel knows where you are doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it,” he said.
Netanyahu intended to reveal further intelligence material in the speech on Thursday, but the security establishment recommended that he not do so, Channel 10 news said Saturday night.
Lebanon has denied Netanyahu’s claims about Hezbollah missile factories, and its foreign minister, Gibran Bassil, on Monday took dozens of foreign diplomats on a tour of the alleged areas, seeking to discredit the Israeli allegations.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil talks to the media as he gathered ambassadors near Beirut international airport on October 1, 2018 during a tour of alleged missile sites around the Lebanese capital in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah movement has secret missile facilities there. (AFP/Anwar Amro)
Later Monday, Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of “brazenly lying” to the international community over the secret weapons facilities in and around Beirut.
He said Bassil took 73 foreign envoys on a “fraudulent propaganda tour” of the alleged missile sites, where he failed to show them the underground facilities where Hezbollah is allegedly manufacturing precision-guided missiles.
“Hezbollah is brazenly lying to the international community by means of the fraudulent propaganda tour of the Lebanese foreign minister who took ambassadors to the soccer field [one of the alleged missile sites] but refrained from taking them to the nearby underground precision-missile production facility,” Netanyahu said.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil gathers 73 foreign envoys and journalists at Al-Ahed stadium in Beirut’s southern suburbs on October 1, 2018 during a tour he organized of alleged missile sites around the Lebanese capital’s international airport in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah movement has secret missile facilities there. (AFP/Anwar Amro)
Bassil led the ambassadors around a pool complex and the sports stadium in a bid to disprove the Israeli accusations. “Today Lebanon is raising [its] voice by addressing all countries of the world… to refute Israel’s allegations,” Bassil said. Israel’s Channel 10 news said Monday night that Lebanon feared Israel may attack the sites.
Netanyahu said the envoys “should ask themselves why [Lebanese authorities] waited three days to give them a tour.”
One of the alleged sites he mentioned in his UN speech is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.
Lebanese security forces guard the entrance of Al-Ahed stadium in Beirut’s southern suburbs during a tour organized by the Lebanese foreign minister for ambassadors on October 1, 2018 of alleged missile sites around the Lebanese capital in a bid to disprove Israeli accusations that the Hezbollah movement has secret missile facilities there. (AFP/Anwar Amro)
Hezbollah, Netanyahu said, took pains to clear out the exposed facilities so that foreign diplomats could tour the area.
“It’s saddening that the Lebanese government is sacrificing the safety of its citizens while covering for Hezbollah, which has taken Lebanon hostage in its aggression toward Israel,” said Netanyahu.
Earlier Monday, the Israeli military released a video noting that three days had passed since Netanyahu detailed the presence of the alleged facilities.
“In three days you can clear out a precision-missile factory, invite foreign ambassadors and hope that the world will fall for it.”
It urged the international community not to be duped by what it said were “Hezbollah’s lies.”
The Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, described the tour as “very good.”
“On the diplomatic and political spheres, there are many statements,” he told The Associated Press. “What we saw today are facts. There is a club and stadium. I can’t imagine a secret thing happening in these places. We saw that with our own eyes.”
Hezbollah, whose forces control south Lebanon bordering Israel and Beirut’s southern suburbs where the airport is located, has not officially reacted to the accusation.
Bassil lashed out at Israel, which he said had “violated our land, air and marine space 1,417 times in the last eight months.”
Israel was attempting “to justify another violation of UN resolutions and to justify another aggression on a sovereign country,” he said.
The Jewish state has fought several conflicts against Hezbollah, the last in 2006.
Bassil said his government would not allow rocket facilities near the airport and that Hezbollah is “wiser” than to place them there. He said Netanyahu’s claims were based on “inaccurate” estimates without any “compelling evidence.”
“Lebanon demands that Israel ceases its madness,” he said.
An image from a placard displayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly showing Hezbollah precision missile sites hidden in Beirut. (GPO)
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah recently boasted that his group now possesses “highly accurate” missiles despite Israeli attempts to prevent it from acquiring such weapons.
Bassil acknowledged Hezbollah’s claims, but said “this doesn’t mean that those missiles are present in the vicinity of Beirut airport.”
Soon after Netanyahu’s speech Thursday, the IDF released satellite images of the sites that it says are being used by Hezbollah to hide underground precision-missile production facilities.
The target of last month’s Israeli airstrike, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.
According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target.
Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.
A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
The army said the facilities are “another example of Iranian entrenchment in the region and the negative influence of Iran.”
According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on the surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.
Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017.
Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not tolerate such facilities.
In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we cannot accept this threat.”