Terror group: Israel not ready for what's in store

Gallant warns crunch time with Lebanon nearing, as Hezbollah attacks persist

Defense minister tells US counterpart Israel prefers diplomatic solution but will exercise force if need be; IDF downs drone over Acre, launches wave of strikes

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the northern border on January 19, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the northern border on January 19, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on Thursday night that Israel was nearing a decision point on Lebanon and the conflict with Iran-backed Hezbollah, as the terror group pressed its daily attacks on the northern border.

Gallant said the country had a duty to restore security and return evacuated Israeli residents to their communities along the border, and although Israel would prefer to do this through diplomacy, it was “prepared to do this through military force,” a statement from the defense minister’s office said.

Touring the Lebanon border Friday, Gallant speculated that “as long as fighting continues in the south, there will be fighting in the north.

“But we will not accept this reality for an extended period. There will come a moment when if we do not reach a diplomatic agreement in which Hezbollah respects the right of the residents to live here in security, we will have to ensure that security by force,” he said.

Since October 8, a day after the deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel, Hezbollah has engaged in cross-border fire on a near-daily basis, launching rockets, drones and missiles at northern Israel in a campaign it says is in support of Hamas. The attacks forced most residents several kilometers from the border to evacuate. Israel has responded with its own regular strikes on Hezbollah targets, and has warned it will not be able to tolerate the terrorists’ continued presence on the border.

Lebanese officials said Thursday that Hezbollah had rebuffed Washington’s initial proposal for stopping clashes with Israel, including pulling its fighters further from the border, but remained open to US diplomacy to avoid a ruinous war.

Gallant’s comments followed similar remarks by the IDF’s Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi earlier this week, who said a war in the north in the coming months was becoming more likely.

On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said a drone that entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon via the sea was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system near Acre, without any sirens sounding.

Meanwhile, the IDF announced that it had carried out a wave of airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

Fighter jets struck in Ramyah, targeting military buildings and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group, according to the IDF.

Additionally, the IDF said it carried out airstrikes and tank shelling against Hezbollah observation positions and other infrastructure in Houla and Kafr Kila.

The army also announced that tanks shelled Syrian Army positions in southern Syria Thursday night in response to rocket fire at the Golan Heights.

Amid the increasing tensions, US Ambassador to Israel Jacob K. Lew was hosted at the IDF Northern Command Headquarters by commanding officer Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin and the Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, the head of the military’s Strategic Planning and Cooperation Directorate.

Lew was briefed on the threats posed by Hezbollah along the border, with officers stressing that threats to the north must be eliminated before evacuated residents can return, as conditions that existed prior to October 7 are considered unacceptable.

IDF Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin (left) shakes hands with US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew, at the Northern Command headquarters, January 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hezbollah official Mohammad Raad warned Friday that Israel is not prepared for war against the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group, saying that it is “frustrated and embarrassed” by its losses in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

Raad said it is an honor for Lebanon that “resistance” groups in the country fight against Israel and accused the Jewish state of being the “guardian of the arrogant people who plunder our wealth, control our waterways, impose their will on a number of our countries and dominate us.”

He said that Israel was suffering defeat in Gaza and that it has “failed to achieve its goals” in every aspect, adding that “the hand of the resistance will remain supreme.”

“The Israeli enemy is forced to retreat and withdraw because it is tired and faces resistance that it did not expect, and it has frustrated and embarrassed all those who support it,” he added. “The Israeli enemy is not ready for war in the face of what the Islamic resistance in Lebanon has prepared for it.”

Not everyone in Lebanon supports Hezbollah’s decision to launch attacks on Israel.

The head of Lebanon’s Christian political party Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, slammed Hezbollah for turning the country “into a battlefield” during a meeting with the UK’s ambassador to Lebanon Hamish Cowell, Lebanese media outlet LBCI Lebanon reported.

During the meeting, Geagea criticized Lebanon’s current caretaker government for granting too much power to Hezbollah.

“Instead of fulfilling its duties to serve Lebanon and its people, it handed over decision-making to a faction, allowing the country to turn into a battlefield, a mere commodity in the volatile regional scene,” LBCI reported him as saying.

File: Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, speaks to an AFP journalist, during an interview at his residence in Maarab, north of the capital Beirut, on May 20, 2022. (Joseph Eid/AFP)

Geagea also called for a solution to be found for the Palestinian people amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, saying that without it, the region will remain unstable.

“We will not witness any stability in the region without resolving the Palestinian issue,” Geagea reportedly said. “It is time to take positions coupled with actions on this issue that has exhausted the region, Lebanon and Palestine for more than 70 years.”

Hezbollah’s position is that it will fire rockets at Israel until there is a full ceasefire in Gaza. Israel has said it will continue its campaign in Gaza until it has ended Hamas’s rule over the territory and brought back the roughly 132 Israelis still being held there, of the some 240 who were taken hostage on October 7.

The country’s political and military leaders have repeatedly stated that Hezbollah will have to withdraw its forces from the border area to north of the Litani River, as required by 2006’s UN Resolution 1701, and that either this will be achieved diplomatically or by force.

Figures shared by the IDF on the 100th day of war showed that in the months since October 7, more than 2,000 projectiles have been launched by Hezbollah and armed Palestinian groups along the Lebanon border.

Six civilians have been killed on the Israeli side, including a septuagenarian and her son, who died this week when an anti-tank missile slammed into their home in Kfar Yuval. In addition to the civilian deaths, nine IDF soldiers and reservists have also been killed.

Across the border, Hezbollah has named 162 members who have been killed by the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon although some also in Syria. An additional 20 operatives from other terror groups in Lebanon have also been killed, as well as 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists.

International figures, including US special envoy Amos Hochstein and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been dispatched to the region in recent weeks in an attempt to cool the boiling tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, but seemingly to no avail, with Israel saying it will not accept a continued clear and present threat to the country’s northern residents.

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