Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Amid increasing concern in Jerusalem that Lebanon is turning into an Iranian satellite, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the “septet,” his top ministerial forum, on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
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No statement regarding the content of that meeting was issued. One government source, however, said it was clear that Iran’s expanding role in Lebanon, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited last month, was of grave concern to Jerusalem.
“An Iranian satellite state on Israel’s northern border has crucial implications for Israeli national security,” the source said.
The meeting also came amid growing apprehension that Hizbullah could provoke a crisis with Israel if the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri were to find Hizbullah responsible, as is widely expected. The tribunal is likely to issue an interim report by the end of the year, and Hizbullah has openly declared it would “cut off the hand” of anyone who tried to arrest a Hizbullah member in connection with the case.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel had to be aware and prepared for the eventuality that “someone will try to deflect the tension [in Lebanon] onto us.”
The security cabinet’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from the northern half of Ghajar was widely viewed as connected to Lebanese internal developments, with the hope that such a move would strengthen the hand of the central government in Beirut in its struggle with Hizbullah.
Hizbullah has used its call for an Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar, as well as a withdrawal from the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area, as a rallying call necessitating its “resistance.”
On Monday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said it had uncovered evidence that strongly implicated Hizbullah in the assassination.
The report detailed aspects of the ongoing investigation that strongly linked Hizbullah to the Hariri murder via an intricate Lebanese network of mobile phones.
An analysis of phone records allegedly pointed “overwhelmingly” to Hizbullah’s involvement, the network concluded, showing that the members of the group had been in frequent contact on the day of the attack and coordinated the detonation of the bomb that killed Hariri.
In response to the report, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the slain prime minister’s son, said on Tuesday, “I personally think that the media leaks do not serve the course of justice.”
President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, was asked about the developments in Lebanon at a press conference in Ukraine, where he is on a state visit.
“Israel has no conflict with Lebanon,” he said. “According to the UN, Israel fulfilled its resolutions relating to Lebanon.”
Peres added that the “difficult” decision to withdrawal from half of Ghajar was a “gesture to Lebanon.”
The problems inside Lebanon, according to Peres, were the result of internal Lebanese conflicts between Hizbullah and “traditional Lebanon. Lebanon was a quiet country, and Hizbullah is a foreign creation that wears the mantle of religion and collects missiles in its territory in the service of Iran.”
Peres said he was sorry about what was happening in Lebanon, “a country with whom Israel has no conflict.” The president said he hoped the country “will overcome its internal difficulties.”
Meanwhile, Israel Radio reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested during a visit to Lebanon on Wednesday that the Hariri tribunal not release its findings for another year, and that during that time the key players in the region work to solve other Middle East problems, such as a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, and easing tension between much of the Arab world and Iran.
Erdogan, during a speech in northern Lebanon, said that if Hizbullah were found guilty of the Hariri assassination, it would impact the entire region.
He then turned to the Jewish state, saying Israel needed to know that if there were peace in the region, the country would benefit, but if there were a war, Israeli citizens would also be among those harmed.