The Hezbollah terror group has removed one of two tents set up in an area along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, according to several Hebrew-language reports late Sunday evening.
According to the Ynet news site, the same number of Hezbollah fighters remains on the Israeli side of the contested area, but they have now been condensed into the remaining tent, while the second one was moved to the Lebanese side.
The Walla news site reported that Israeli officials believe Hezbollah is seeking to quietly avoid an armed confrontation with Israel by moving the tent. Israeli officials did not immediately confirm the reports on Sunday evening.
The news broke hours after Israel reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah threatening an armed confrontation if it did not remove the outpost soon. According to an unsourced Channel 12 report, Israel warned Hezbollah that the tents would be removed “even at the cost of days of fighting.”
The outpost was set up by the Iran-backed terror group in early April, north of the border fence, but on the Israeli side of the internationally recognized Blue Line in the contested Mount Dov region, an area also known as the Shebaa Farms and claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The UN and the Lebanese government have both since confirmed it sits south of the Blue Line.
Israel has reportedly been making efforts behind the scenes since April to get the tents and operatives removed peacefully, but to no avail.
Earlier Sunday, Energy Minister Israel Katz told a radio station that Israel was trying to let diplomacy work to resolve the issue, but “we’ll get rid of this breach one way or another.”
“Israel is not interested in war, the damage it and Lebanon will absorb will be of a severity nothing like the Second Lebanon War,” he told Radio 103FM, referring to a major war fought between the sides in 2006. He noted that Hezbollah is being squeezed by Iran on one side and Israel on the other, but that Israel will nevertheless take care of what it needs to.
“The easiest thing is to hit the ‘war’ button. We’re not interested in going there, but we won’t allow our red lines to be crossed, and [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah should know that,” Katz added.
On Saturday, the head of Hezbollah’s faction in the Lebanese parliament told Israel to “shut up” and rescind its demand that the terror group dismantle the tents.
Muhammad Raad, an MP who leads parliament’s “Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc,” was quoted by local media as saying that “the enemy is demanding the removal of the two tents and prefers that the resistance do it because it doesn’t want to enter into an undesirable war.”
“If you don’t want war, shut up and walk back [the demand],” he added.
Raad disputed that the tents are in Israeli territory, calling this “the enemy’s interpretation.” And he said neither Israel nor anyone else “can force anything anymore.”
The Walla news site reported last week that the US was pressuring Lebanon’s government to clear out the outpost. The report, citing four unidentified Israeli and American officials, said Jerusalem and Washington believe the outpost creates a serious risk of escalation along the border. It said Israel had conveyed a sharp message to Lebanon via the Americans that the outpost must be removed.
“Our goal is for the outpost not to be there,” an Israeli official was quoted as saying. “We prefer Hezbollah evacuate its people itself over us bombing them. We have made this clear to the US and the Americans made it clear to the Lebanese.”
According to the Ynet news site, Israeli officials believe UN peacekeepers will not be able to act against the post and are looking to the US and France instead. The outlet claimed Israeli officials had set a deadline for the position to be removed, after which it will get rid of the tents itself, even at the risk of sparking a wider conflagration.
Israel and Lebanon do not have a formal border due to territorial disputes, but they largely abide by the UN-recognized Blue Line between the countries.
The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters in some areas from the Israeli fence, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.
The IDF has been working on a new border wall with Lebanon to replace an aging fence in the area. The engineering work, which typically takes place to the north of Israel’s fence, but within Israeli territory, has sparked several minor clashes on the border in recent months.
UNIFIL has stepped in at times and stopped the engineering work after complaints by the Lebanese Army of Israeli forces allegedly crossing the Blue Line. The new Hezbollah posts were believed to have been established by the terror group in response to the IDF engineering work.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.