'If Hezbollah wants to go up a level, we'll go up five'

Gallant warns Hezbollah amid frequent attacks from Lebanon, IDF retaliatory strikes

Terror group claims at least 10 attacks Sunday on northern towns; FM Cohen urges visiting French counterpart to help enforce UN resolution by keeping Hezbollah away from border

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to reservist soldiers on the Lebanon border, December 17, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to reservist soldiers on the Lebanon border, December 17, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant again threatened to sharply escalate military action against Hezbollah Sunday, as the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group continued to carry out frequent attacks on northern Israel and the IDF carried out new waves of strikes on Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon in response.

Rockets and missiles were fired from Lebanon at a number of northern towns throughout the day in the Mount Dov and Rosh Hanikra areas, as well Kibbutz Sasa and the northern towns of Margaliot and Arab al-Aramshe. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for at least 10 such attacks on Sunday alone.

Some rockets failed to cross the border, landing on the Lebanese side, while others fell in the border area.

There were no reports of injuries in the Hezbollah attacks, though an auditorium was reported damaged in Kibbutz Sasa.

In response, an Israeli fighter jet and attack helicopter hit a number of buildings used by Hezbollah, and a drone struck a group of operatives. Meanwhile, another aircraft and tank hit weaponry and a Hezbollah observation post, the IDF said. Later, aircraft and tanks struck a Hezbollah anti-tank missile squad preparing to carry out an attack near an army post on the border.

Vowing to restore security in northern Israel so that the estimated 100,000 displaced residents of border communities can return to their homes, Gallant told reservist troops on the Lebanese border: “If Hezbollah wants to go up a level, we’ll go up five.”

“And it will be up to you,” he told the soldiers. “We don’t want that, we don’t want to get into a war situation. We want to restore peace and we will do it either through an agreement, or with forceful action, with all its implications.”

“We don’t want war, but we won’t hold it off for too long,” Gallant added.

A picture taken from the outskirts of south Lebanon’s village of Aitaroun shows smoke billowing after a raid carried out by Israeli warplanes on December 17, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Despite the daily attacks from Lebanon, the IDF’s main focus remains on the Gaza Strip, where it is conducting a lengthy, intense ground operation aimed at rooting out the Palestinian terror group Hamas following the carnage it unleashed in its October 7 onslaught.

Israel has also intensified pressure on the US and other members of the international community to broker the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and stipulated that Hezbollah must not place its operatives south of Lebanon’s Litani River.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced Sunday that Israel and France had established a “joint working group… with the aim of coordinating the implementation of Resolution 1701.”

During a meeting with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna, who was in Israel for the second time since the war broke out between Israel and Hamas, Cohen asserted: “Only the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 and the distancing of Hezbollah from the border with Israel will prevent war in Lebanon.

“Hezbollah, which serves the terrorist government in Iran, endangers Lebanon and the entire region,” he added.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) meets with visiting French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on December 17, 2023 (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)

Resolution 1701 barred Hezbollah from maintaining a military presence south of the Litani, which is located some 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the Israel-Lebanon border.

Israel has warned it will no longer tolerate the presence of the terror group along the northern frontier after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which some 3,000 terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 240, mostly civilians.

Since that date, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis.

On Saturday evening, Israeli air defenses intercepted a surface-to-air missile fired at an IDF drone over Lebanon. The IDF said that the drone was not hit, and the missile did not enter Israeli airspace. Footage from the Sea of Galilee area captured the moment of the interception.

So far, the skirmishes on the border, which have intensified sharply since Hamas’s devastating attack, have resulted in four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of seven IDF soldiers. There have also been a number of rocket attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

On the Lebanese side, more than 120 have been killed. The toll includes 111 Hezbollah members — some of whom were killed in Syria — 16 Palestinian terrorists, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 17 civilians, three of whom are journalists.

Israeli defense officials estimate that the Hezbollah death count is higher than reported and that the terror group is covering up the true number of fatalities among its ranks.

More than 64,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon, mostly in the south, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

AFP contributed to this report.

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