Never let a United Nations milestone, if at a point of failure, go to waste. That may well have been the motto of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu in addressing today the United Nations General Assembly via video from Jerusalem.
Ignoring well-worn analyses of the coronavirus crisis, Bibi instead went to his usual playbook — Iran. This time his target was the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
New Yorkers may have missed the U.N.’s annual gabfest — traffic in Manhattan moved freely — but last week the world body conducted the General Assembly’s annual debate. It’s been long envisioned as a special event this year, the organization’s 75th anniversary. The carefully planned pomp, however, was upstaged by the pandemic that forced heads of state to avoid traveling to New York — and, literally, phone it in instead.
Canned videotaped speeches were full of well-worn Covid warnings. Secretary General Guterres issued his by now familiar call on all to lay down arms and unite instead in the fight
against Corona, climate change, and other global maladies. Armenia and Azerbaijan must have missed the plea, as they launched a new war at the heart of Europe.
Then came Bibi. As Jewish high holidays prevented his slate at the top of the speakers’ list, the Israeli premier, much maligned at home for failure to stem the spread of Covid, instead was one of the last orators. He quickly dispensed with the disease that has occupied the bulk of the speeches before him, and turned to Lebanon.
The explosion August 4 at the Beirut port was mentioned by other speakers in passing only. Some, like, notably, President Macron of France, called on donors to pour cash into the pit that is the failed Lebanese state. Bibi instead called on the people of Beirut to protest a Hezbollah missile storage facility at the heart of the city.
Replacing the backdrop to his speech, the walls of Jerusalem’s old city, with an aerial footage of Beirut, Mr. Netanyahu pointed to the exact location, in Beirut’s Janah neighborhood, where, he predicted, “the next explosion could take place.” The secret arms depot in the photos (he showed the actual door) is adjacent to the gas company’s canisters, near a gas station, and is embedded in a densely-built residential neighborhood.
After giving the exact coordinates of the missile depot, Mr. Netanyahu called on the Janah residents to “protest this.” Israel, he added, “means you no harm, but Iran does. Iran and Hezbollah deliberately put you and your family in great danger.” Evoking his inner Reagan, the PM called on Beirutis to demand Hezbollah “tear these depots down.”
In Lebanon, citizens have long speculated about Hezbollah’s responsibility for the devastating port explosion that has left the city looking like Nagasaki looked in August 1945. Evidence may have mounted, but as the Iranian-founded organization tightened its hold on the Beirut government, criticizing Hezbollah has become a dangerous game.
Hezbollah’s chief, Hasan Nasrallah, delivered a previously-scheduled speech on Tuesday, shortly after Mr. Netanyahu presented at Turtle Bay the fruit of Israeli intelligence. Mr. Nasrallah denied Mr. Netanyahu’s charge and invited reporters to the spot Mr. Netanyahu pointed to, so they can see for themselves.
Shortly after the speech, the Israeli Defense Force issued aerial photos of several other locations where Hezbollah stashes dangerous arms that could blow up in civilian areas. One recently went up in smoke in the southern Lebanese village of Ein-Qana. Mr. Netanayahu called on the UN to insist that Hezbollah stop using the Lebanese people as human shields.
As it turns out, in 2018 Congress unanimously passed the Sanctioning the Use of Civilians as Defenseless Shields Act, which would punish Hezbollah and its supporters for precisely the type of activity exposed by Mr. Netanyahu at the UN.
Soon enough, the Trump administration, or its successor, must soon act: Stop playing France’s diplomatic game and preserving the political statu-quo in Lebanon. End the habit of funding Hezbollah-controlled governments. Instead, start reassuring the people of Lebanon that those who are responsible for the August devastation, and similar catastrophes sure to follow, are punished rather than rewarded. Help the Lebanese people end Iran’s hold on power in their country.
This year the UN crowning annual event was more reminiscent of an ancient dinosaur’s final breaths than a celebration of a prominent institution. It was nicely capped, however, by Mr. Netanyahu’s call for action, which could yet wake up some chancelleries — or at least those State Department officials still favoring a go-easy approach to Hezbollah.