UN peacekeepers say no one crossed border in recent days

After suspected Hezbollah bombing, Gallant warns those responsible ‘will regret it’

Defense minister briefed on Monday morning blast carried out by man who infiltrated Israel from Lebanon; says Israel will retaliate

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left), chief of the Northern Command Ori Gordin (right), and commander of the 91st territorial division Shai Klapper (back to camera), at the Har Adir lookout point on the Lebanon border, March 16, 2023. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left), chief of the Northern Command Ori Gordin (right), and commander of the 91st territorial division Shai Klapper (back to camera), at the Har Adir lookout point on the Lebanon border, March 16, 2023. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday issued a warning to “whoever is responsible” for a bombing carried out by a man who infiltrated Israel from Lebanon earlier this week, without explicitly mentioning the prime suspect, the Hezbollah terror group.

“Whoever is responsible for the attack will regret it. We’ll find the right place and time and we’ll hit them,” Gallant said following a briefing with army officials at the 91st territorial division, based at the Biranit camp on the northern frontier.

It was only on Wednesday that the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency published details of the Monday morning attack, which left a man seriously wounded and had been kept under wraps due to security concerns.

Gallant was briefed Thursday by IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Northern Command chief Ori Gordin, and commander of the 91st territorial division Shai Klapper.

“The defense minister received the initial findings from the investigation into the attack, as well as the intelligence findings to complete the picture of the situation,” Gallant’s office said in a statement.

“The investigation of the incident is still ongoing… This is a complex attack, but thanks to the intelligence and operational capabilities of the security forces, we will know who is behind it,” Gallant said following the briefing.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is seen with IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (right) during a briefing at the 91st territorial division base, at the Biranit camp on the Lebanon border, March 16, 2023. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

“Thanks to joint, determined, and quick action by the security forces, carried out in close cooperation, the circle was quickly closed and the terrorist was eliminated. This prevented another attack with the potential for serious damage,” he continued.

“I want to say from here, at the northern border, in the clearest way: Whoever is behind this attack will regret it. We will find the right place, the right way, and we will hit back at whoever is responsible for the attack,” Gallant said.

The suspected Lebanese terrorist crossed into Israel overnight between Saturday and Sunday, and made his way to Megiddo Junction on the Route 65 highway, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) south.

Israeli soldiers are seen on the Lebanese border, March 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

He planted a bomb there, which exploded on Monday morning at 6 a.m., seriously wounding Shareef ad-Din, 21, from the Arab village of Salem.

The bomb was considered unusual according to the IDF, and did not appear to be similar to explosive devices used by Palestinians in recent months. Ad-Din’s car, which was hit by the shrapnel, was around 30 meters (98 feet) away from the device.

The alleged terrorist hitched a ride to northern Israel after the bombing, and on Monday afternoon, soldiers spotted a vehicle with the suspect near the Israeli town of Ya’ara, close to the border with Lebanon, the IDF said.

Officers of the elite police Yamam counterterrorism unit and Shin Bet officers opened fire at the suspect, killing him. The IDF said the suspect was a “clear danger” to the security forces and had a primed explosives belt on him at the time. More weapons were later found in the vehicle.

The scene of an apparent bombing at the Megiddo Junction in northern Israel, March 13, 2023. (Courtesy: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The military and Shin Bet said it suspected the terrorist carried out the attack on behalf of the Iran-backed Hezbollah. The exact manner in which the suspect crossed into Israel was still being investigated, as were his potential links to the Lebanese group.

The driver of the car was detained by officers at the scene and was released after questioning on Wednesday. He was not believed to have been involved in the attack.

The IDF said there were no other known terrorists who had infiltrated into Israel with the suspect and he is believed to have been alone during the attack.

There were no special security instructions for residents, and the IDF said it would remain on alert for potential Hezbollah attacks in northern Israel.

The censorship for nearly three days came under criticism by civilians and analysts, as unsubstantiated rumors regarding the incidents spread on social media, leaving many worried and confused.

Security forces detain a man near the town of Ya’ara who gave a ride to an alleged Lebanese terrorist who carried out a bombing attack in northern Israel, March 13, 2023. (Social media)

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon said Thursday it had not observed any border crossings from Lebanon.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) “has not observed any crossing of the Blue Line in recent days,” said spokesman Andrea Tenenti, referring to the frontier demarcated by the UN in 2000 after Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon.

He said force commander Aroldo Lazaro Saenz urged both sides to exercise restraint and use UNIFIL coordination mechanisms to “avoid misunderstandings and decrease tensions.”

Hezbollah did not comment directly on the allegations, but the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper, which is aligned with the group, said that “the resistance will have a clear response” to any Israeli military action.

AFP contributed to this report.

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