Jerusalem cannot be expected to sit idly by as Iran entrenches itself in Syria and Lebanon and declares with Hezbollah that they are planning a two-front war against Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday.
“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts [in] its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said before his meeting in Jerusalem with Guterres. “It is also building sites to produce precision- guided missiles toward that end in both Syria and in Lebanon. This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the UN should not accept.”
During the meeting, Netanyahu said: “It is our right not to allow this noose to tighten around Israel.”
Diplomatic sources said Israel sees Guterres’s first visit here since taking office in January as a good opportunity to present its case before having to take action in Syria or Lebanon, well aware that any action it takes will lead for calls of condemnation in the UN Security Council.
During a day packed with meetings with the country’s senior political and military officials, Guterres was shown intelligence information on Hezbollah’s build-up in southern Lebanon.
Israel’s leaders, from President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu down through Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and new Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay, bombarded Guterres with a litany of complaints about the organization he heads.
For his part, Guterres said Israel should expect impartiality from the UN secretary-general, and he will strive to be an “honest broker.”
He stressed during the day, on a number of different occasions, that calling for the destruction of Israel is modern antisemitism.
But, he said during a meeting with Rivlin, “you also understand that I sometimes disagree with positions of the government of Israel or any other government, and that is absolutely normal in a society where many of your citizens have exactly the same expressions of opinion.”
Netanyahu welcomed Guterres by saying that he has demonstrated a desire to turn a new page in relations between Israel and the UN, but then lashed into the organization’s “absurd obsession with Israel,” and its “flagrantly discriminatory tactics.”
The UN mandate is to advance peace, security and international cooperation, but it “has failed when it comes to Israel to live up to its mandate,” he said.
Netanyahu said UNESCO is mandated with preserving world heritage, but denies the Jewish people’s 3,000- year connection to Jerusalem. And the UN is mandated to pursue peace, “but allows Palestinian hate speech to flourish in its institutions.”
Also, he said, the institution is mandated to stand up for human rights, “but it allows in its various forms the worst human rights violators to take up the cudgel and to accuse Israel of violating human rights.”
Netanyahu said the most pressing problem Israel faces now is Hezbollah and Syria.
Referring to Security Council Resolution 1701, which set the terms for the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Netanyahu said the UN was mandated with preventing weapons shipments to Hezbollah, but that UNIFIL has not even reported one of the “tens of thousands of weapons smuggling into Lebanon for Hezbollah, contrary to 1701.”
Guterres responded: “I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate.”
UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal next week, and both Israel and the US are pressing for its mandate to be strengthened in order to more effectively combat or at least report on Hezbollah’s weapons build-up.
France, on the other hand, has raised its voice against changing the mandate.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley took UNIFIL Irish commander Maj.-Gen. Michael Beary to task on Friday.
“Gen. Beary says there are no Hezbollah weapons,” she said. “That’s an embarrassing lack of understanding on what’s going on around him.”
In addition to meeting Rivlin and Netanyahu, Guterres also met with Liberman, and the Zionist Union delegation that included Gabbay, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and MK Tzipi Livni.
He also met with head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, and Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories.
In addition, Guterres met the families of the Israelis held by Hamas in Gaza, and was urged throughout the day to use his influence to bring about their release. Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon called the meeting “emotional.”
Guterres is scheduled to go to Gaza on Wednesday, but will not be meeting any Hamas representatives there.
On Tuesday he will go to Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders.
Soon after arriving Sunday evening, Guterres met with US negotiator Jason Greenblatt and discussed the diplomatic process as will as the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Guterres began the day Monday with a visit to Yad Vashem, which he said serves as a reminder “that we need to be in the first line of fighting against antisemitism and also fighting against all other forms of bigotry, be it racism, xenophobia or even anti-Muslim hatred, and to promote understanding and to promote dialogue.”
After his visit to Yad Vashem, Guterres – a former Portuguese prime minister – planted an olive tree in the KKL-JNF Grove of Nations in the Jerusalem forest.
Guterres’s maternal family name is Oliveira, which means “olive tree” in Portuguese. He said during the ceremony that when he was born, his grandfather planted an olive tree in his honor. “That tree remains standing, meaning we have many things in common,” he said.
In the late afternoon, Guterres joined Netanyahu at the Israel Museum to see an exhibition on Israeli innovation.