Netanyahu exposes Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut

Oct 2, 2020 | AIJAC staff

The map Israeli PM Netanyahu presented on Tuesday as part of his video address to the UN General Assembly
The map Israeli PM Netanyahu presented on Tuesday as part of his video address to the UN General Assembly

Update from AIJAC


10/20 #01

This Update discusses the revelations made by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday (delivered remotely) concerning a Hezbollah missile facility in Beirut right next to a gas company – which he warned could lead to a repetition of something like the horrific Beirut port explosion last month. Subsequently, the IDF also released maps of two further Hezbollah missile facilities in suburban areas of Beirut near civilian dwellings.

This Update also features a piece on how the new normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Israel and Bahrain, known as the Abraham Accords, are changing racist attitudes toward Jews across the Middle East.

We start with a backgrounder from BICOM, the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre, on the new revelations about the Hezbollah missile facilities. This lays out what Netanyahu said and also what was revealed by the IDF about the other two alleged missile sites. It also looks at potential political implications of these revelations. For all the basic facts, CLICK HERE.

Next up, American law academic Orde Kittrie explores the wider legal implications of the Hezbollah revelations – namely that they strongly suggest use of human shields, a war crime. He notes that Hezbollah and other groups have found human shield tactics very effective, despite their blatant illegality, and yet never pay any penalty for these actions. Kittrie points out that there is already legislation in place in the US under a 2018 law to impose sanctions for these war crimes, and urges that the new evidence makes a strong case that such sanctions now need to be imposed. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, as noted, we offer a piece on the Abraham Accords and their cultural effects on Middle Eastern attitudes toward Jews, written by American Middle East scholar Stephen Cook. Cook reviews the widespread antisemitism – not related to Israel or Zionism –  he personally witnessed when travelling across the region, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria. He notes that the UAE has been reaching out to Jews, as well as Catholics, for some time, and also notes signs of positive changes in Egypt and Iraq. He argues that this change – the abandonment of very widespread antisemitism across regional societies – may actually be more important than the political outcomes of the Abraham Accords. For all that he has to say,  CLICK HERE.

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Hezbollah hiding missiles in Beirut, Netanyahu tells UN

BICOM, Sept. 30, 2020

Netanyahu’s presentation to the UN on Tuesday, Sept. 29. 

What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his address the UN General Assembly yesterday to send a message to the Lebanese people, “Israel means you no harm, but Iran does. Iran and Hezbollah have deliberately put you and your families in grave danger”.

  • Netanyahu revealed that Hezbollah has built a secret weapons storage facility in the Beirut neighbourhood of Janah. Showing the coordinates on a map, Netanyahu said: “It’s right next to the international airport … adjacent, a metre away, from a gas company … and it’s embedded in civilian housing.” He added: “I say to the people of Janah, you’ve got to act now. You’ve got to protest this. Because if this thing explodes, it’s another tragedy. Iran and Hezbollah have deliberately put you and your families in grave danger. And what you should make clear is that what they have done is unacceptable. You should tell them, tear these depots down.”
  • He also appealed to “the international community must insist that Hezbollah stop using Lebanon and Lebanese civilians as human shields”.
  • Relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, Netanyahu said, “Iran will have enough enriched uranium in a few months for two nuclear bombs and Iran has been working on a new generation of centrifuges, it’s called the IR9, which will multiply Iran’s enrichment capability fifty-fold. There is no question that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.” Netanyahu also criticised his European allies for acting against Iranian violations of the JCPOA nuclear accord, saying: “In the run-up to the nuclear deal, Israel was told — especially by our European friends — that any Iranian violation would be met with a quick and severe response. But in the face of Iran’s brazen violations, in the face of the irrefutable evidence of the nuclear archive, the Security Council has done, absolutely nothing. Rather than curb Iran’s aggression, the nuclear deal fed and funded it.”
  • Highlighting the regional consensus of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear material and technology, Netanyahu said, “Both Arabs and Israelis are together urging tough action on Iran. And when Arabs and Israelis agree, others should pay attention.”
  • Netanyahu also spoke of the historic peace agreements signed with the UAE and Bahrain, saying they “will bring our peoples the blessings of peace and the enormous benefits that come with more trade, more investment, more commerce, transportation, tourism, increased cooperation in so many other areas.” He also argued that the agreements “will make peace between Israelis and Palestinians more likely”.

Two other alleged Hezbollah missile storage or manufacture sites in Beruit released by the IDF subsequent to Netanyahu’s speech.

Context: Netanyahu’s focus on Hezbollah’s weapons storage facility comes after an explosion last week in the village of Ain Qana, south Lebanon, which is believed to have emanated from another secret Hezbollah weapons depot.

  • Following Netanyahu’s speech to the UNGA, the IDF revealed additional Hezbollah sites in Beirut used to manufacture precision guided missiles (PGMs). According to the IDF spokesperson’s office, “An underground PGM manufacturing site located in the Laylaki neighbourhood. The site is located underneath a seven-story residential building, home to over 70 families.” The IDF added that “a medical centre and a church are located approximately 130 meters from the site”.
  • The Chouaifet neighbourhood has another PGM manufacturing site, “underneath a five-story residential building, home to approximately 50 families. There is a mosque located approximately 90 metres north of the site”.
  • In July, the Alma Research and Education Centre released a report which claimed that there are 28 sites across Beirut that Hezbollah uses for the production and storage of medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, such as the Iranian Fateh-110 and its Syrian equivalent, the M-600.
  • In February 2019 the UK government proscribed Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist organisation.

Looking ahead:  The IDF confirmed that they are “monitoring these sites using advanced means and are very knowledgeable in regards to the PGM project. They will continue to extensively operate against it with various methods and tools.”

  • On Iran, Netanyahu called upon all members of the Security Council, to stand against Iran’s aggression. There is expected to be continued pressure ahead of 18 October when the UN embargo on conventional weapons sales to Iran is due to expire.
  • Relating to further normalisation agreements, Netanyahu told the UNGA: “I also have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will be joining the circle of peace, soon, very soon.”


Netanyahu Highlights Hezbollah Use of Human Shields

Orde Kittrie

Foundation for Defense of Democracies Policy Brief, Sept. 29, 2020

The locations of three alleged Hezbollah arms depots in Beirut, as claimed by the Israel Defense Forces on September 29, 2020 (Israel Defense Forces), together with some earlier sites exposed in 2018. 

In his speech to the UN General Assembly today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided three detailed examples of Hezbollah’s use of Lebanese civilians as human shields, which is a war crime. This evidence strongly supports imposing sanctions on Hezbollah pursuant to the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act (Shields Act), which passed Congress unanimously and became law in December 2018.

Netanyahu’s address, and associated material released today by Israel, specifies three locations in which Hezbollah, with assistance from Iran, has located missile factories directly under or adjacent to civilians.

One factory for producing precision-guided missiles (PGMs) is located underneath a seven-story apartment building home to 70 families in Beirut’s Laylaki neighborhood. A second factory for producing PGMs is located underneath a five-story apartment building home to 50 families in Beirut’s Chouaifet neighborhood. A third factory for producing PGMs is located in Beirut’s Janah neighborhood, near civilian homes and adjacent to two gas companies and a gas station.

PGMs are equipped with highly advanced navigation systems, which would enable them to evade Israeli missile defense systems and strike targets with an accuracy of a few meters. Because they are significantly more precise than prior Hezbollah missiles, which often missed their targets, they are considered particularly dangerous to Israel. After several unsuccessful attempts to transfer ready-to-use PGMs, Iran has been sending PGM parts to Hezbollah for assembly at locations such as these in Lebanon.

The Shields Act requires the president to submit to Congress a list of, and impose sanctions on, each foreign person involved in Hezbollah’s or Hamas’ use of “civilians protected as such by the law of war to shield military objectives from attack.” In light of the threat posed to Israel by these PGM factories, they are a legitimate objective for the Israeli military. Hezbollah’s use of civilians to shield such military objectives from lawful attack or to deliberately cause civilian casualties is a war crime, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Use of human shields is among the most pernicious tactics employed on the modern battlefield.

U.S., Israeli, and other allied armed forces have repeatedly been confronted with human-shields use by terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State. Terrorists hide behind human shields in order to (a) cause Western armed forces to self-impose restraints that render them less effective, and (b) delegitimize lawful military operations, erode the Western will to fight, and spur anger at the West, by generating civilian casualties for which the terrorists can blame Western militaries. Terrorists engage in the actual war crime of using human shields in order to facilitate falsely accusing U.S., Israeli, and other Western armed forces of engaging in war crimes such as the deliberate killing of civilians.

Hezbollah’s use of human shields has been remarkably effective in achieving these objectives. It also puts civilians in danger of explosives accidents, such as those that recently decimated the port of Beirut and detonated a Hezbollah arms depot in the Lebanese village of Ain Qana.

Yet Western countries have not yet responded by penalizing, prosecuting, or otherwise holding Hezbollah, other terrorist groups, and their leaders and material supporters accountable for using human shields. Doing so would help counter the terrorist narrative, including by demonstrating that officials of these terrorist groups are war criminals – a particularly important fact as the United States pushes to have Hezbollah declared a terrorist group by the European Union.

Holding terrorist groups accountable would also help educate the media and public about the use of human shields and who is responsible for resulting harm to civilians. It may also deter some material supporters from involvement in human-shields use. These supporters could include municipal officials who knowingly provide permits for PGM factories under residences, or businesspersons who knowingly construct them under residences.

Hezbollah’s use of human shields is not limited to these three missile factories in Beirut. In a 2018 op-ed published in Arabic, Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis wrote, “[O]ne in every three or four houses in southern Lebanon is a headquarters, a post, a weapons depot or a Hezbollah hideout.”

Despite considerable prior evidence, the Trump administration has yet to impose any sanctions under the Shields Act, which became law nearly two years ago. The exceptionally strong evidence released today should prompt the administration to act.

Orde Kittrie is a law professor at Arizona State University and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). He previously served for a decade as an attorney in the State Department Legal Adviser’s Office and is the author of Lawfare: Law as a Weapon of War (Oxford University Press, 2016).

The Arab World Is Having a Jewish Revolution

The real achievement of the Abraham Accords isn’t geopolitical—it’s cultural.

Foreign Policy, SEPTEMBER 27, 2020, 1:18 PM

A drawing of the planned Abrahamic Centre being constructed in Abu Dhabi, to house a Mosque, a Church and a Synagogue

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published a stem-winder of an editorial about the Abraham Accords. It was a no holds barred takedown of the agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, accusing its protagonists of cynicism, electioneering, entrenching authoritarianism, entangling the United States in sectarian conflicts in the region, and betraying of the Palestinian cause. To be fair, the editorial writers acknowledged that the normalization deal—they firmly rejected the term “peace agreement”—was positive in the narrowest terms but nevertheless averred that it was the product of U.S. President Donald Trump’s misguided approach to the Middle East. This is tough stuff.

The Post is giving too much credit for the agreement to the White House, but it is also giving too little credit to a critical, but barely remarked upon (among mainstream media and the foreign-policy community) consequence of the Abraham Accords: the normalization of Jews and Judaism in an Arab and Muslim society. That is a big deal.

I look at Emirati efforts to explore and understand the Jewish faith and its outreach to Jews from the vantage point of someone who can be best described as “culturally Jewish.” I feel strong about my identity, but it is not a function of any fealty to Jewish law and custom. Hardly. I complain bitterly when I have to go to synagogue and often sneak a snack on the way to Yom Kippur services during the annual fast. I should also note that I am friends with Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States. We have broken bread too many times to count. We share a range of interests that many guys our age share: our kids, 1980s music, sports, politics, and good food. I value our friendship. It also has no bearing on my work.

The contrast between what the UAE is doing through the Abraham Accords and its broader efforts at outreach to other faiths, notably Roman Catholics, is far beyond the norm of what I’ve grown accustomed to since I began traveling to and living in the Middle East three decades ago. During my time in Cairo in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was struck not by the anti-Zionism that was part of the political discourse—that was to be expected—but rather the anti-Semitism that was part of the cultural discourse. This phenomenon was closely linked to the government’s abdication of critical spheres such as education and culture to the Muslim Brotherhood and, in turn, the regime’s war of position with the Islamists.

In Saudi Arabia, schoolchildren were taught that Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes. When I was a student in Damascus, Syria, 26 summers ago, agents of the regime regaled me one evening with a long and exhaustive string of anti-Semitic canards because they felt it was important that they teach me what I did not learn in the United States. I don’t remember any of these narratives making any distinction between Israelis and Jews, undermining a bedrock belief among apologists and the credulous that there is a sharp distinction between criticism of Israel’s conduct and the grotesque image of Jews that is all too common in the region.

With the signing of the Abraham Accords, the Emiratis have flipped the narrative. Their outreach to Israel has generated an interest in Jews and Judaism that is refreshing. The English-language Khaleej Times published a Rosh Hashanah supplement. There were Rosh Hashanah services in Abu Dhabi—a first (though there is a Jewish community in Dubai that has celebrated New Year before). The government has directed that there be kosher meal option in hotels and on the country’s air carriers. And in keeping with the last few years, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed wished Jews “Shana tova” in a tweet. When was the last time other foreign ministers did that?

It is important to note that even before there was something called the Abraham Accords, the Emiratis were spending a lot of time and effort on building an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi connecting a mosque, church, and synagogue called the Abrahamic Family House as a center of religious tolerance. Earlier this year, I ran into one of Washington’s well-known rabbis in the airport waiting for a flight from the Emirates back home. He had been there to take part in one of the Emirati government’s initiatives to foster tolerance.

To many, I am sure the Emiratis’ outreach to Jews may seem like a cynical ploy. I can already hear the objections to this piece and can imagine the Twitter criticisms: “The Emiratis are just ‘Jew washing’ their terrible record on Yemen and human rights,” or “This is cynical public relations by a country that wants to hold itself out as a model of tolerance, but it isn’t a model of tolerance at all so long as political opponents are jailed.” These are, of course, entirely valid concerns. I am hardly naive, but I am willing to take the Emiratis at their word, if only because they seem so genuinely interested in normalizing Judaism.

And, even if it is public relations, I am still OK with it. After all, it is better than the opposite, in which there is a race to the bottom over who in the region can outdo one another in terms of Jew hatred. The Emiratis also seem to have created a positive dynamic across the region. The Saudis, who remain resistant to establishing ties with Israel despite reports of pressure from the Trump administration, are themselves rethinking their approach to the Jewish faith. The Egyptians had a brief moment of introspection about the past and the role of Jews in Egyptian society a number of years ago, but the issue remains fraught.

I’ve heard that young Iraqis are doing the same, which is close to my heart because my Uncle Anwar is from Baghdad, having left in 1947 on a scholarship to the University of Denver only never to return out of fear of his safety. Perhaps what the Emiratis are doing—regardless of what anyone thinks about their intentions—will produce some good in a region sorely in need of it.

So editorial writers, journalists, and analysts can heap criticism on the Abraham Accords all they want. They may turn out to be correct, and normalization between the UAE and Israel is not all that it is cracked up to be, but for this Jewish kid, it may be bigger. I am actually looking forward to going to synagogue in Abu Dhabi, even if I complain about it on the way there.

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East.


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