Netanyahu's estranged brother-in-law slated to speak

Fringe far-right conference to advocate occupation and settlement of south Lebanon

Uri Tzafon organization sends eviction notices to residents of Israel’s northern neighbor by balloons and drone, says Jewish settlement is ‘only solution to conflict in north’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Spanish UN peacekeepers stand on a hill overlooking the Lebanese border villages with Israel in Marjayoun town on January 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
Spanish UN peacekeepers stand on a hill overlooking the Lebanese border villages with Israel in Marjayoun town on January 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Members of a small far-right group advocating the annexation and settlement of southern Lebanon are set to hold a video conference on Monday, claiming their approach is the “only solution” to the ongoing clashes with Hezbollah amid increasingly vocal calls for Israel to invade its northern neighbor.

“More assassinations in Lebanon, more firing of missiles, more alarms in the northern settlements, and no real change is visible on the horizon,” the Uri Tzafon organization said in a statement last week decrying the current escalation in the north. As an alternative, it invited the public to participate in what it is calling “the first Lebanon conference” focused on “occupation of the territory and settlement.”

According to Uri Tzafon, among those set to address the conference, which will take place on Zoom, are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s estranged brother-in-law Hagi Ben Artzi and Amiad Cohen, the head of Herut: Israel Liberty Center, the now-independent Israeli branch of the conservative Tikvah Fund.

Tens of thousands of residents of towns and villages along Israel’s northern border have been forced from their homes for the past eight months due to the near-daily cross-border attacks by Hezbollah, which has been striking Israel since immediately after Hamas’s brutal October 7 terror onslaught.

The attacks have persisted despite constant warnings by Israel that it could launch a war to push Hezbollah away from the border in order to restore calm, with most evacuees facing the prospect of remaining displaced for the foreseeable future.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 17 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 342 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 63 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Eviction notices for residents of southern Lebanon sent via drone and balloon by members of the far-right Uri Tzafon organization. (Telegram)

Accusing the government of “procrastinating” on its response to the crisis, members of Uri Tzafon last week said it flew drones and balloons carrying eviction notices to residents of southern Lebanon.

“The announcements make it clear to the residents that they are in the Land of Israel, which belongs to the Jewish people, and that they are required to evacuate immediately. A detailed explanatory map was attached to the announcements,” the group said in a post on its Telegram channel, which has slightly over 300 followers.

Explaining its ideology in another post earlier this month, the group stated that following the 1967 Six-Day War, “many settlements were built in all the extensive areas that were added” to the country but that “out of the neighboring Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, Lebanon is the only one that did not pay in Jewish land and settlement.” (While Lebanon joined those other countries in attacking Israel during the War of Independence in 1948, it did not take part in the Six-Day War.)

“The time has come to collect the price of aggression through occupation and settlement,” the group stated.

Writing in the national-religious Makor Rishon newspaper earlier this year, Doron Nir-Zvi, one of the conferences’s slated speakers, insisted that settling southern Lebanon is a national security necessity “because we have learned that where there is no settlement — sooner or later there is no army either.”

“And we learned this right there, in the security zone in Lebanon, from which the IDF withdrew after about 18 years of holding it,” he wrote.

The remains of a large fire caused from rockets fired from Lebanon burns near a home in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

This approach has been repudiated by the more mainstream right, with the Makor Rishon newspaper recently running an opinion piece arguing that “history gives us legitimacy for settlement in Judea and Samaria, but not in south Lebanon.”

Responding to PLO rocket fire and other attacks, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, only fully withdrawing to the international border from its security zone in the south of the country in 2000. A Second Lebanon War was triggered in 2006 when Hezbollah conducted a cross-border raid, killing three IDF soldiers and taking two hostage.

If the current escalation led to all-out war, analysts believe, Israel would probably bomb targets in southern Lebanon before soldiers tried to push at least 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) across the border. Hezbollah would likely use its estimated arsenal of over 150,000 rockets to target Israeli cities. In 2006, the group fired about 4,000 missiles at Israel.

Israeli politicians on the right have increasingly called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to invade Lebanon, but even the most militant have so far refrained from advocating the settlement of any territories captured in a war.

In January, hawkish politician Avigdor Liberman, head of the opposition Yisrael Beytenu party, called on Israel to reoccupy southern Lebanon, saying the country must “pay in territory” for damage caused by Hezbollah strikes on Israel’s northern towns.

The IDF must “close off” a swath of southern Lebanon and push the terror group north of the Litani river, even if it means 50 years of occupation, Liberman said at the time, insisting that “we will not annex anything, and we will not build settlements, but we will release the territory only when there is a government in Beirut that knows how to exercise its sovereignty.”

Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (2-R) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have also called for an invasion of Lebanon.

Speaking at a faction meeting of his far-right Religious Zionism party in northern Israel last month, Smotrich demanded that Netanyahu issue a “public ultimatum” that Hezbollah “completely stop firing and withdraw all forces to beyond the Litani River.”

“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 Lebanese area,” said Smotrich.

“The way to bring the [evacuated] residents home to the north is through a military decision with a devastating assault on Hezbollah and its infrastructure, and the destruction of its power.”

While neither Smotrich nor Ben Gvir have advocated settling Israeli Jews in Lebanon, both have come out in favor of reestablishing Jewish settlement in Gaza, with Ben Gvir stating that he would be “very happy to live in Gaza” following the war.

Ben Gvir was one of 11 government ministers and 15 coalition lawmakers who attended a mass conference in January advocating the rebuilding of Jewish Israeli settlements in the heart of the Gaza Strip.

Reuters and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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