Fighting Anti-Israeli Bias

Countering
Item 7

THE UNHRC'S STANDING AGENDA ITEM
TARGETING ISRAEL

Claims

Claim 23: Israel engages in military aggression against Syria and Lebanon

examples

Iran, 41st Session

“Continuous military aggression of the occupying power against the sovereign states of Syria and Lebanon and their innocent people are clearly example of flagrant violations of international law, principle, and norms.”

Our Response

UN Watch

Israel is not committing aggression in Syria and Lebanon, but it does routinely respond to threats and attacks from both countries, in most cases stemming from Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.

Conflict in Syria

During Syria’s decade-long civil war which began in 2011, Israel has avoided any serious entanglement with the warring parties, unlike other countries that have directly intervened with troops on the ground such as Russia, Iran and Turkey. However, as Iran and its proxy Hezbollah used their presence in Syria to dramatically escalate their military deployment against Israel, it has responded.

Iran’s presence in Syria, under the strategy overseen by the late General Qassem Soleimani, has had two goals. The first goal was to provide funding and military power so that the Bashar al-Assad regime could maintain its grip on power in the ongoing civil war. According to the IDF, since 2011, Iran has deployed 3,000 Iranian Quds Force militants in Syria, and funded the deployment there of 8,000 Hezbollah militants as well as thousands of foreign Shiite militias.[1] Second, and no less important, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has focused its efforts on establishing advanced weapons capabilities and command infrastructure in Syria, building a military and proxy network in the country, to threaten and attack Israel.

Iran is not shy about its intentions. Senior Iranian officials routinely call for Israel’s destruction. In April 2020, Iranian official Mohsen Rezai threatened: “If the Zionist entity takes even the slightest initiative, you may rest assured that we will raze the Israeli cities to the ground.”[2]

Recent examples of Iranian aggression against Israel from Syria, and Israel’s response, include:

  • February 10, 2018: Iranian UAV armed with explosives, launched from an airbase in Syria, infiltrated Israeli airspace in attempted attack, which was prevented by Israeli helicopters. In response, Israel struck the UAV launch site and 12 other Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel lost one of its F-16 planes in the counter-offensive—a rare loss for the Israeli air force, though both crew members survived after ejecting. More from BBC.[3]
  • May 9, 2018: Iranian Quds Force in Syria fired 20 rockets at Israel. In response, Israel carried out strikes on dozens of Iranian Quds Force military targets in Syria. More from New York Times.[4]
  • January 20, 2019: Iranian Quds Force in Syria fired Iranian-made rocket at Israeli civilian ski resort on Golan Heights. In response, Israel struck Iranian Quds Force targets in Syria, including munition storage sites, a military compound in Damascus International Airport, and Iranian intelligence and military training sites. More from CNN.[5]
  • August 24, 2019: Iranian Quds Force killer drone attack, directly commanded by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, was preemptively foiled by IDF. More from Washington Times.[6]
  • September 9, 2019: Shiite militants in Syria, operating under the direct command of Iranian Quds Force, fired several rockets at Israel. Rockets fell short and landed in Syria. More from The Washington Post.[7]
  • November 19, 2019: Iranian forces in Syria fired four rockets at Israel. In response, the IDF struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets in Israel, including surface-to-air missiles, Quds Force headquarters, weapon warehouses and military compounds. More from BBC.[8]

World leaders have condemned Iranian attacks on Israel from Syria and defended Israel’s right to respond. In May 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May stated: “We condemn Iran’s attack on Israel. Israel has every right to defend itself.”[9] Boris Johnson, then foreign minister, urged Iran “to refrain from further escalation.”[10] Germany likewise condemned Iran’s attack as a “serious provocation” and recognized that “Israel has a right to self-defense.”[11] EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini responded to the Iranian attack by affirming that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”[12]

In view of the above, it is clear that Israel’s actions in response to Iran’s military threats and aggression in Syria amount to self-defense and are legal under international law.

Lebanon and Hezbollah

Iran and Hezbollah typically condemn all Israeli actions in Lebanon as violations of international law or aggression. In August 2018, two IDF drones crashed between residential buildings in Beirut. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at Israel, saying this was “a very, very dangerous development.”[13] According to a report by the Washington Institute, the drones were targeting Iranian weapons facilities in Lebanon.[14] In January 2018, Hezbollah accused Israel of a bomb attack in the city of Sidon that wounded a member of the Hamas terror group.[15] In January 2019, when Israel discovered a series of sophisticated attack tunnels dug from Lebanon into Israel, and responded by putting up a barrier, Lebanon’s National Security Council complained that this constituted “an act of aggression.”[16] Do these and related actions in fact constitute aggression?

One cannot understand Lebanon without appreciating the central role played by Iran and its proxy militia Hezbollah, which, according to the New York Times, “dominated” the last Lebanese government. Iran finances Hezbollah to the tune of $800 million per year, part of estimated billions that Tehran spends annually to fuel conflicts across the Middle East, including massive support to the Syrian regime and “resistance” groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza and the West Bank.[17] According to a UN statement by 11 Arab states, Iran is today “a state sponsor of terrorism” throughout the Middle East, committing “aggression in the region.”[18]

Hezbollah is widely recognized as a terrorist organization, including by the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany. In 2009, Hezbollah released a new Charter in which it called Israel an “eternal threat to Lebanon,” vowed to support “the Palestinian resistance” and stated: “We categorically reject any compromise with Israel or recognizing its legitimacy…”

Hezbollah has repeatedly escalated conflict on Israel’s northern border. In 2006, Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers sparked a 34-day war in which Hezbollah indiscriminately fired 3,900 rockets at Israeli population centers, killing 49 civilians and wounding 1,384. In addition, 121 Israeli soldiers were killed and another 1,244 injured. The war ended in a ceasefire pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1701 which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, providing that the only armed forces permitted to operate in southern Lebanon would be UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah has repeatedly violated the ceasefire through various acts of aggression along the Lebanon-Israel border.

In December 2018 and January 2019, Israel discovered six Hezbollah attack tunnels crossing under the border from Lebanon into Israel.[19] The tunnels contained advanced infrastructure, including electricity, ventilation and communications systems enabling terrorists to remain inside for extended periods. They were part of a Hezbollah plan to attack northern Israel. In the UN debate of December 2018, the Lebanese government (which includes Hezbollah) refused to acknowledge any violations of international law.[20] On the contrary, when Israel responded by constructing a barrier, Lebanon’s National Security Council complained that this constituted “an act of aggression.”[21]

[1] Iran Attacks Israel from Syria, IDF (November 20, 2019), https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/iran/iran-in-syria/iran-attacks-israel-from-syria/.

[2] Top Iran official renews threat to ‘raze Israeli cities’ amid friction with US, Times of Israel (May 4, 2020), https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-iran-official-repeats-threat-to-raze-israeli-cities-amid-friction-with-us/#gs.gxfyav.

[3] Iranian drone was sent to Israel ‘to attack,’ BBC (April 13, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43762193.

[4] Isabel Kershner, Iran fires rockets into Golan Heights from Syria, Israelis say, New York Times (May 9, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/world/middleeast/israel-iran-attack.html.

[5] Oren Liebermann, Israel strikes Iranian targets in Damascus after missile fired at Golan Heights, CNN (January 22, 2019), https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/21/middleeast/israel-strikes-iran-targets-syria-intl/index.html.

[6] Ben Wolfgang, Israel thwarts Iranian ‘killer drone’ attack, Washington Times (August 25, 2019), https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/aug/25/israel-thwarts-iranian-killer-drone-attack/.

[7] James McAuley, Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in ongoing tension between Iranian-backed groups and Israel, Washington Post (September 9, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/hezbollah-downs-israeli-drone-in-ongoing-tension-between-iranian-backed-groups-and-jerusalem/2019/09/09/9c712628-71b5-46b3-a1cb-93d3c9ddcfe9_story.html.

[8] Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria, BBC (November 20, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50485521.

[9] Britain condemns Iran attack on Israel, Reuters (May 10, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iran-britain/britain-condemns-iran-attack-on-israel-idUSKBN1IB1BX.

[10] @BorisJohnson, Twitter (May 10, 2018, 6:48 PM), https://twitter.com/borisjohnson/status/994605038734540805?lang=en.

[11] France, Russia, Germany, UK urge ‘de-escalation’ between Israel, Iran, i24 News (May 10, 2018), https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/174381-180510-france-russia-germany-urge-de-escalation-between-israel-iran.

[12] Itamar Eichner, EU, UK stress Israel’s right to defend itself after strikes, Ynet (November 5, 2018), https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5257687,00.html.

[13] Laila Bassam, Lisa Barrington, Hezbollah leader says Israeli army to face quick retaliation to drone ‘attack’ in Beirut, Reuters (August 25, 2019), https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-security/hezbollah-leader-says-israeli-army-to-face-quick-retaliation-to-drone-attack-in-beirut-idUSKCN1VF0CK.

[14] Hanin Ghaddar, How Will Hezbollah Respond to Israel’s Drone Attack? Washington Institute (August 28, 2019), https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/how-will-hezbollah-respond-to-israels-drone-attack.

[15] Hezbollah accuses Israel of Sidon bombing, Reuters (January 19, 2018), https://fr.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-israel-hezbollah-idUSKBN1F81QB.

[16] In Lebanon, U.S. State Department official calls Hezbollah ‘unacceptable,’ Reuters (January 14, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-usa/in-lebanon-us-state-department-official-calls-hezbollah-unacceptable-idUSKCN1P81UI.

[17] David Adesnik, Iran Spends $16 Billion Annually to Support Terrorists and Rogue Regimes, Foundation for Defense of Democracy (January 10, 2018), https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2018/01/10/iran-spends-16-billion-annually-to-support-terrorists-and-rogue-regimes/.

[18] Note verbal dated 27 October 2016 from the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/71/581 (October 31, 2016), https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/847916.

[19] Trey Yingst, Reporter’s Notebook: Inside Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, Fox (May 30, 2019), https://www.foxnews.com/world/fox-news-goes-inside-one-of-hezbollahs-attack-tunnels-in-israel.

[20] Tunnels under ‘Blue Line’ between Lebanon, Israel Violate Resolution 1701 (2006), Peacekeeping Chief Says, Urging Calm in Briefing Security Council, UN Press Release (December 19, 2018), https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sc13634.doc.htm.

[21] In Lebanon, U.S. State Department official calls Hezbollah ‘unacceptable,’ Reuters (January 14, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-usa/in-lebanon-us-state-department-official-calls-hezbollah-unacceptable-idUSKCN1P81UI.

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