Gantz calls Hezbollah chief Nasrallah 'Lebanon’s biggest problem'

On the backdrop of the explosion in Beirut, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Hezbollah has the habit of stocking ammunition in homes of civilians.

al-monitor Hezbollah militants stand to attention as hundreds of people gather in a huge hall waiting to watch a televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, on Feb. 22, 2008, in a southern suburb of Beirut. Photo by JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

humanitarian aid, lebanon government, israeli security, explosion, hezbollah, benny gantz

Aug 10, 2020

Defense Minister Benny Gantz made an unexpected statement this morning about Lebanon. Addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Aug. 10, Gantz said, “While [Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan] Nasrallah is our greatest enemy to the north, he is Lebanon’s biggest problem from within Lebanon. We see the tragedy that happened in Lebanon. … Just think about what would happen if that were repeated with Iranian weapons in Lebanese villages.” Gantz went further, warning, “We are dealing with enemies who are operating and storing weapons in a civilian environment. If we have no choice but to fight, it might have difficult implications.”

Gantz was appointed to his position in May, but his address today was his first briefing to the committee as defense minister as well as the first address by a defense minister to the committee since November. Illustrating the volatile situation in Lebanon, Gantz said that there are homes in the neighboring country with both guest and missile rooms. "As a security network, we are fighting enemies that keep weapons and operate in civilian surroundings. If we don’t have a choice but to fight, it will have dire consequences,” he added.

Gantz’ statement came on the backdrop of reports from Lebanon concerning the source of the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion. According to these reports, the Lebanese army does not believe Israeli jets were responsible for the blast. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah denied last week any responsibility for the explosion in the Beirut port. On Aug. 7, Nasrallah said, “We know more about the port of Haifa than the port of Beirut. We talk about resistance, we are thinking of a strategy of defending Lebanon, we did not intervene in Lebanese affairs.” Nasrallah emphasized that the warehouse that exploded in Beirut's port did not contain any of the organization's weaponry.

Israel has been following closely the growing demonstrations in Lebanon against the government and against Hezbollah. Still, Jerusalem has been careful not to comment on these events, addressing only the humanitarian aspects of the blast. On the other hand, analysts in Israel now estimate that recent tensions on Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon might calm, at least temporarily, while Hezbollah is preoccupied with developments in Beirut.

The Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, offered Lebanon humanitarian aid, but received no formal response. French President Emmanuel Macron noted Israel’s offer at his Aug. 9 address to the donor videoconference for Beirut organized by Paris. Still, Israel was not invited to participate in the conference.

Shortly after the blast, the High Follow-Up Committee of Arabs in Israel contacted Lebanese politicians and the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Ashraf Dabbour, in an attempt to send a delegation of Arab medical experts from Israel, stating, “We are ready to send medical teams; dozens of doctors are ready to go out and assist in their various areas of expertise.” No formal response has yet come from Beirut.

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