A top Israeli minister has threatened to return Lebanon "to the Stone Age" as he warned that his country would not stay silent against the Shia militant group Hezbollah. Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz also warned that his country would not hesitate to take action against Iran's military presence in Lebanon if Tehran is found building missile facilities.
Katz's sharp warning comes at a time when the war of words has been intensified in the volatile region, with multiple factions increasing their rhetoric. The issue stems from US President Donald Trump's recent decision to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Responding to recent remarks made by Iran and Hezbollah on the Jerusalem move, Katz called on the Islamic nations – led by Saudi Arabia, which follows Sunni Islam – to unite against their common adversary Tehran. Both Iran and Hezbollah follow Shia Islam and are close allies.
In an interview to the Saudi daily Elaph, Katz said Israel would not tolerate Hezbollah, an armed military group that also has a strong political presence in Lebanon, building up its weapons arsenal.
"The more accurate that Hezbollah's missiles get, the stronger and wider Israel's strike will be. This time, all of Lebanon will be a target," he warned.
Referring to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, he said, "What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in south Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age."
Katz made these comments against the backdrop of Hezbollah warning that it would be shifting its battleground to Israel from Syria over the recent Jerusalem step. The organisation's leader Hassan Nasrallah had earlier urged his allies to come up with a united strategy "in the field" to confront Israel.
Speaking about Iran's presence in Lebanon, the Israeli minister said, "We have information that Iran is building advanced missile plants in Lebanon, and I want to emphasise that we have drawn a new red line, and we will not allow them to do this at any cost." Asked whether Israel would bomb such Iranian sites in Lebanon as a pre-emptive measure, he said, "Yes. We will also act militarily and prevent them, as is happening in Syria.
"At the same time, we don't want war, and we have no interest in destroying Lebanon. But we will not accept a Lebanese assault on us."
The Israeli minister said Riyadh, which he called the leader of the Arab world, should play a major role in the Israel-Palestine peace process. In what is being seen as another indication of Israel and Saudi Arabia inching towards closer cooperation, it was revealed by the Israeli daily Haaretz that Katz had also extended an invitation to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to visit Israel.
Israel, arch-rival of Iran, does not have any diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia currently.
Regional heavyweights, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have clashing ideologies and share a fractious relationship due to a power struggle over a series of religio-political issues such as the way Islam is interpreted, the Islamic world's leadership and oil exports.