BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday he saw no risk to peace from an operation by Israel’s military to disable cross-border tunnels it says were dug into its territory by Hezbollah guerrillas.
Israel says Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful armed group, dug the tunnels with the aim of launching attacks into Israel with backing from its regional sponsor Iran. Hezbollah has yet to comment.
“We certainly took this issue seriously – the presence of tunnels at the border – and Israel informed us via the United States that it does not have aggressive intentions and it will continue to work on its (territory),” Aoun told a news conference.
“We also do not have aggressive intentions… We are ready to remove the causes of the dispute, but after we obtain a final report and we set out the matters that need to be dealt with.”
During a televised visit to the border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “methodically dismantling the tunnel weapon,” and warned Hezbollah not to re-establish the front.
“If Hezbollah makes the big mistake of deciding in any way to strike at us or resist the (anti-tunnel) action we have undertaken, it will get hit with blows that it cannot even imagine.”
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, last week confirmed the presence of one tunnel near the Israeli town of Metulla. The force’s head, Major General Stefano Del Col, said on Tuesday that a second one had been found while Israel’s military said it had discovered a third.
Del Col, in a statement issued after meeting Aoun, said the matter was “serious”. UNIFIL was making “every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding”.
Israel has said it is up to UNIFIL to deal with the tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border, and its military said it held the Beirut government responsible for “another blatant breach” of a U.N. resolution that ended a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said in a separate statement that Lebanon was committed to implementing that resolution.
Israel and Hezbollah have avoided major conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border since 2006, though Israel has mounted attacks in Syria targeting what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to the group.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich and John Stonestreet)