Ben Gvir suggests Israel should invade Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah in its entirety

Ultranationalist minister says Smotrich didn’t go far enough in demanding Israeli military control only in south Lebanon, calls for Gantz and Gallant to be sent packing

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during an official Memorial Day ceremony at the Ashdod Military Cemetery, May 13, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during an official Memorial Day ceremony at the Ashdod Military Cemetery, May 13, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir suggested Monday that Israel should invade Lebanon in order to destroy Hezbollah in its entirety, saying that a similar demand from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich the previous day to launch a military operation in southern Lebanon did not go far enough.

The ultranationalist minister, who oversees the Israel Police, told 104.5 FM radio that while he agreed with Smotrich that Israel should conduct a military takeover of southern Lebanon to push Hezbollah back from the border, such a plan “wouldn’t be enough.”

“We would need to do another thing — and that’s a war that would destroy our enemies,” he said of Hezbollah, which has launched near-daily drone, rocket and missile attacks on Israel since October 8, resulting in the displacement of some 70,000 residents of northern Israel.

“Even if they’re pushed back from the border, even if there’s a security zone, even if they move a bit — you can’t just leave people behind whose entire purpose and essence is to destroy the State of Israel,” Ben Gvir said.

“What they don’t do in six months they will do in a year, and what they don’t do in a year they will do in two,” he added. “We must not leave this to our children. Not in the south and not in the north.”

Throughout the months of attacks on Israel’s northern communities, which the Iran-backed Hezbollah said it was carrying out in support of Gaza amid the war there against Hamas, Israel has threatened to go to war to force the terror group away from the border.

A picture taken from southern Lebanon shows smoke rising above the northern Israeli town of Metula following a strike from the Lebanese side on May 16, 2024. (Rabih Daher / AFP)

International efforts including by France and the US to resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution have thus far failed, with Hezbollah maintaining that it will not enter into any concrete discussions with Israel until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.

Smotrich on Sunday had demanded that Israel not shy away from launching a military takeover of southern Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw from the border, and promoted a plan reminiscent of Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon in the years following the First Lebanon War in 1982.

Speaking at a faction meeting of his far-right Religious Zionism party held, unusually, in northern Israel, he demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make a clear announcement of a plan to deal with the Iran-backed terror group, saying that if necessary, military action must be taken.

“A public ultimatum must be issued to Hezbollah that they completely stop firing and withdraw all forces to beyond the Litani River,” said Smotrich, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry.

“If the ultimatum is not fully met, the IDF will launch an assault deep in Lebanese territory to defend the northern communities, including ground entry and Israeli military takeover of the southern Lebanon area.”

Religious Zionism party leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (second left) leads a faction meeting in northern Israel, May 19, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Further echoing comments by Smotrich, Ben Gvir told 104.5 FM that the blame for the lack of effective action against Hezbollah lay with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, both of whom have spoken out in recent days about the seeming lack of direction that the war in Gaza has taken.

Netanyahu should send Gantz packing, Ben Gvir suggested, referring to Gantz’s ultimatum to Netanyahu Saturday night, in which he said that if no clear plan of action is set in motion by June 8, he will pull his centrist National Unity part from the governing coalition and return to the opposition.

“It would be good if the prime minister respected his wishes and sent him, Gallant and [war cabinet observer Gadi] Eisenkot home,” Ben Gvir said, reiterating his call for Gallant to be fired after the defense minister said he wouldn’t allow Israel to implement military or civil rule of Gaza after Hamas is dismantled.

“We need a government that sees to the issues of the right,” Ben Gvir said. “Gallant is a right-wing defense minister who implements left-wing ideology.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Noting that even if Gantz’s National Unity party withdraws from government, the coalition will still have a majority, with 64 seats out of 120, Ben Gvir suggested that in the future, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman or New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar could join the government, bolstering its numbers.

“I see them as an important force,” he added.

Hawkish Liberman, who on Saturday night said he would only join the war cabinet if Netanyahu resigned, responded to Ben-Gvir on Monday, saying his party wouldn’t join the government even once Gantz left, as he refuses to “give legitimacy to a government that has no legitimacy.”

“The entire government needs to put down the keys and go to elections,” Liberman added.

Sa’ar had demanded to join the war cabinet after he split his New Hope faction away from Gantz’s party in March, but returned to the opposition after his request was denied.

Asked if he believes Netanyahu should also be included in criticism of the war cabinet’s actions and decisions, Ben Gvir said that the prime minister “needs to choose whether he wants to go the way of Gallant, Gantz and Eisenkot, which is the route of compromises, political deals and ending the war.”

“Or,” Ben Gvir continued, “he can go my way: continuing until the end, victory until the end, and with emigration from Gaza encouraged.”

“We have no other way,” the hardline minister added of his proposal. “We must fight this war for future generations.”

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