By REUTERS, YASSER OKBI/MAARIV
Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil says during a television interview Israel “has a right to exist in safety”, causing controversy.
BEIRUT – Lebanese politicians on Thursday criticized Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil over a television interview in which he was shown saying that Lebanon did not have an ideological problem with Israel and was not against it having security.
Bassil, who is the in-law of current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, further said that ‘‘I don’t deny Israel [has a] right to exist. We are not blind. We are a people who wants to live with others.’’
The comments, made to al-Mayadin television channel during a long interview on Tuesday, had just started attracting attention.
Lebanon has no official relations with Israel and tensions have risen this year between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group. Israel and Hezbollah, the group it describes as the greatest security threat on its border, have fought wars against each other.
A former government minister called on Bassil to resign and a member of parliament also criticized him.
In the official statement, Bassil claimed that his words were ‘’used out of context,” that the Lebanese stand on the matter of the Arab-Israeli conflict is “steadfast” and that the Lebanese still stand behind the Arab Peace Initiative first announced in Beirut in March 2002 and reaffirmed in 2007 and 2017. The minister claimed to be in favor of the view that Israel is “the enemy of Lebanon” and that nothing said during his recent interview contradicted that.
Al-Mayadin is a television network that is closely related to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group that declares itself an enemy of the state of Israel.
Israel has targeted Hezbollah positions several times this year in Syria, where the group, which is in Lebanon’s coalition government, is fighting on the Syrian government’s side in the civil war against rebels and ISIS.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said this month that after the group’s success in Syria, where rebels are on the back foot and Islamic State has been militarily defeated, it will focus on its confrontation with Israel.
He called on allied Shi’ite militia in the region to join Hezbollah in developing a strategy against Israel.
The al-Baqer Brigade, a militia in Syria, posted a picture on its Facebook page on Dec. 26 of what it said was one of its commanders identified as Haj Hamza Abu al-Abbas visiting the Israeli border in southern Lebanon.
An Iraqi militia commander also appeared in a video recently on Lebanon’s border with Israel, in what was seen in Lebanon as a demonstration of the growing clout of Hezbollah and its regional allies.
Hagay HaCohen contributed to this report.