Gallant warns Hezbollah against escalation: ‘We’ll return Lebanon to the Stone Age’

Threatening terror chief Nasrallah, defense minister says Israel ‘will not hesitate to use all our power,’ following recent provocations by Iran-backed group on border

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) and head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, look toward Lebanon from the Mount Dov area, August 8, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) and head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, look toward Lebanon from the Mount Dov area, August 8, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Visiting the tense Mount Dov region on the border with Lebanon on Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant threatened the Hezbollah terror group, which has been carrying out provocations along the frontier in recent months.

In a video statement, Gallant warned the chief of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, “not to make a mistake.”

“You have made mistakes in the past, you have paid very heavy prices. If… an escalation or conflict develops here, we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age. We will not hesitate to use all our power, and erode every inch of Hezbollah and Lebanon if we have to,” said Gallant after touring the area with senior Israel Defense Force officers.

“Don’t mistake us, we don’t want war, but we are ready to protect our citizens, our soldiers, and our sovereignty,” he added.

Gallant observed the location where Hezbollah recently set up two tents in sovereign Israeli territory, with the head of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, and commander of the 91st Regional Brigade, Brig. Gen. Shai Kalper, along with other senior officers.

In Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms — an area claimed by Lebanon — Gallant held an assessment with the officers, and was updated on “the defensive efforts being made along the border, and of the progress of the construction of the barrier that is currently being carried out,” his office said, referring to plans to replace Israel’s border fence with a taller concrete wall.

View of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa farms, from the village of Ghajar on the Lebanon border, August 2, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

In recent months, Hezbollah activity has repeatedly been spotted along the border, in incidents that Israel sees as deliberate provocations, including the erection of two tents beyond the United Nations-recognized Blue Line in the Mount Dov area. The Iran-backed group later took down one of the tents, while threatening to attack if Israel moves to dismantle the other one.

Other recent incidents have included camouflaged Hezbollah members walking along the border in violation of a UN resolution, and Hezbollah activists crossing the Blue Line on numerous occasions, including attempts to damage the border fence and army surveillance equipment.

In April, dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel, injuring three and damaging buildings. Though Israel blamed the attack on the Palestinian terror group Hamas, it was seen as having been carried out with the tacit approval of Hezbollah, which maintains tight control of southern Lebanon.

Separately, in March, the IDF blamed Hezbollah for sending a terrorist to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon and plant a bomb at a junction in northern Israel. The blast seriously wounded an Israeli man.

A Hezbollah flag is seen on the Lebanese side of the Lebanon border, and an Israeli flag seen on the Israeli side, July 19, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/FLASH90)

Israel and Lebanon do not have a formal border due to territorial disputes; however, they largely abide by the Blue Line. The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.

The Mount Dov area was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War but the Lebanese government and Hezbollah say the area belongs to Lebanon.

Read more: Jitters grow along Lebanon border as Hezbollah provocations become more brazen

Hezbollah has long been the IDF’s most potent adversary on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.

Work on a new border wall with Lebanon began in 2018. By 2020, the military and Defense Ministry Borders and Security Fence Directorate had completed only 15 kilometers (9 miles) of concrete walling along the approximately 130-kilometer (80-mile) border in order to protect the 22 adjacent Israeli villages. Eventually, the plan is to construct a barrier along the entire border — a project that would cost NIS 1.7 billion ($470 million).

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