Gantz, Herzog threaten Israel will step up responses if Iranian attacks continue

Defense minister says Israel willing to help Lebanon, but won’t suffer crises leaking into its territory; president says those who harm Israel ‘will feel our might’

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with military officials in the IDF northern command, on August 10, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with military officials in the IDF northern command, on August 10, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Touring the north on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the country is prepared to assist Lebanon amid its spiraling financial crisis, but at the same time won’t accept further attacks on its border, after a barrage of rockets was fired at northern Israel by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group last week.

“The crisis in Lebanon is devastating. The State of Israel calls on the international community to aid Lebanon. We are also willing to provide assistance. However, we will not let the tragedy in Lebanon cross the border into Israel,” Gantz said on a visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command.

Lebanon is grappling with a raft of shortages, including gasoline, and the government is discussing lifting subsidies it can no longer afford, amid what the World Bank said is one of the worst financial crises since the 1850s.

The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, and Lebanese state electricity companies are providing less than five hours of electricity a day in most areas, as they struggle to come up with the foreign currency for fuel imports.

On Friday, 19 rockets were fired at the Golan Heights and Galilee Panhandle from Lebanon. The IDF said 10 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and six landed in open areas around Mount Dov. Another three rockets failed to clear the border and landed in Lebanese territory.

It was Hezbollah’s heaviest barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The group said it came in response to recent Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon. “The Islamic Resistance shelled open areas near the Shebaa Farms with dozens of 122mm rockets,” it said in a statement carried in Arabic-language media.

Israeli artillery fires toward Lebanon from a position near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona following Hezbollah rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on August 6, 2021 (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

“We are well aware of Hezbollah’s attempts to exploit the situation at the expense of the safety and livelihoods of Lebanese citizens — under the direct influence of Iran,” Gantz said on Tuesday.

Referring to the recent deadly drone attack on the Israel-linked Mercer Street oil tanker near Oman, widely blamed on Iran, the defense minister said that “just as we saw in the maritime attack, which claimed the lives of two foreign nationals, Iran is the greatest threat to global and regional peace. Israel will not stand by while Iran advances its nuclear program.”

“We call on the international community to take action and stop Iranian aggression. This is the time for joint action,” he said.

Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last week named the Iranian commander they said was behind the attack on the MT Mercer Street oil tanker. Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed.

A tug boats are moored next to the Israeli-managed tanker MT Mercer Street, off the Fujayrah port in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3, 2021. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

The defense minister said Israel will respond to the Iranian aggression at the time of its choosing. After Iranian Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami spoke on Saturday of an “equation of response” in regards to Israel, Gantz stated: “Those who have become accustomed to equations should understand that what has happened in the past is not necessarily what will be in the future, and they should do the math.”

At the same time, at a Naval ceremony in Haifa for the arrival of two new Sa’ar 6 corvettes, President Isaac Herzog also threatened those who attempt to harm Israeli citizens, singling out Iran.

“In recent weeks, we have witnessed Iran’s attempt to harm Israeli targets including on the maritime front. This is not just an Israeli matter. The whole world has seen the results of Iran’s aggression against innocent civilians,” Herzog said.

President Isaac Herzog is seen at the welcoming ceremony for new Sa’ar 6 corvettes to the Israeli Navy, on August 10, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Only last weekend, we again saw the activity of Iran and its affiliates on the northern border,” he said of the rocket attacks. “If anyone in Lebanon thinks they can threaten us — they are making a bitter mistake.”

Herzog said that Israel will not agree to having its citizens under fire, and threatened that “whoever tries to harm us — anywhere, in theaters near and far, directly or indirectly — will feel our power and might.”

Israel has been seeking to convene the United Nations Security Council over the deadly drone attack, but at the same has warned it could respond militarily toward Iran.

Iran, which has denied the allegations it was involved in the attack, warned Israel not to take military action.

“We state this clearly: ANY foolish act against Iran will be met with a DECISIVE response,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said last week.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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