Hezbollah shells north with dozens of rockets after IDF drone strike kills commander

Military says it killed operations officer in charge of one of terror group’s regional units; 45 rockets launched at Western Galilee, causing no injuries

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

An Israeli police officer inspects a site where rockets launched from southern Lebanon struck in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, on June 19, 2024. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli police officer inspects a site where rockets launched from southern Lebanon struck in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, on June 19, 2024. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah bombarded northern Israel with some 45 rockets on Thursday after an Israeli drone strike killed one of the terror group’s field commanders.

The latest tit-for-tat served to keep tensions on the restive border taut, a day after the head of the Iran-backed terror group publicly threatened to step up attacks as Israel’s top military brass huddled to plan for countering the growing menace of Hezbollah drones.

In a statement Thursday, Hezbollah claimed to have launched dozens of rockets at an Israeli military base near the northern community of Zar’it.

It said the barrage was a response to the killing of Abbas Ibrahim Hamza Hamada, in the southern Lebanon town of Deir Kifa earlier on Thursday.

The Israel Defense Forces said 25 rockets were launched at the Western Galilee at around 2:30 p.m., setting off sirens in several communities. Another 20 rockets were fired at the same area an hour later, with all falling in open areas, the military said.

There were no injuries or material damage reported in the attacks.

According to the IDF, Hamada was the operations officer of a Hezbollah regional unit based in the Jouaiyya area of southern Lebanon, a town close to Deir Kifa.

The military said he was responsible for planning and carrying out attacks against Israel while commanding Hezbollah’s ground forces in Jouaiyya, some 11 kilometers (8 miles) east of Tyre.

In recent months, the IDF said Hamada “advanced the entrenchment of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, while attempting to improve the organization’s ground combat.”

Hezbollah announced his death but did not call him a commander.

Hezbollah operative Abbas Ibrahim Hamza Hamada on a poster published on June 20, 2024. (Hezbollah media office)

Simultaneous to the drone strike that killed the operations officer, the IDF said fighter jets struck a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher in southern Lebanon’s Rihan, which it said posed a threat to Israeli aircraft.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there. In recent weeks, the sides have appeared to move closer to all-out war, with Hezbollah shooting more projectiles into Israel and targeting areas farther from the border, where most of the fighting has been concentrated.

Appearing in a televised address Wednesday night, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah claimed his group had new weapons and intelligence capabilities that could help it target more critical positions deeper inside Israel in case of an all-out war.

“We now have new weapons. But I won’t say what they are,” he said.  “When the decision is made, they will be seen on the front lines.”

With war drums seemingly growing louder, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met Wednesday night with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi to discuss the threat from Lebanon.

The Defense Ministry said “special emphasis” was given to the Hezbollah drone threat and to ways Israel can improve in countering it. The terror group in recent months has increasingly been using explosive-laden drones, alongside anti-tank guided missiles and barrages of rockets.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah published footage from what it said was one of its reconnaissance drones flying over northern Israel, including the Haifa port.

Gallant was briefed on “the latest developments in the fight against Hezbollah,” his office said.

Also participating in the meeting at the Northern Command headquarters in Safed was Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, the head of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, and head of the General Staff Corps, Maj. Gen. David Zini, among other officers.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (2nd from R) holds an assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (2nd from L), the head of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin (L), and the head of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar (R) at the Northern Command HQ in Safed, June 19, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Gallant told the generals to “be fully prepared for all possibilities.”

“We are completing the ground and air readiness, strengthening the intelligence systems, and preparing for any possibility,” Gallant was quoted as saying in a ministry statement.

“We have an obligation to change the situation in the north and return the citizens safely to their homes, and we will find the way to do this action,” he said, referring to the tens of thousands of Israelis displaced by Hezbollah’s attacks.

Halevi told Gallant in the meeting that the military is “very determined, ready today at a very high level of readiness,” and prepared “to make the right decisions.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks with troops at an Iron Dome battery in northern Israel, June 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier Wednesday, Halevi said the military “possess powerful capabilities that the enemy knows only a little about.”

“Yesterday, Hezbollah released a video with a capability that we are familiar with, and we are preparing and building solutions to deal with such capabilities and other capabilities,” Halevi told troops at an Iron Dome air defense battery in northern Israel.

“We of course possess infinitely more powerful capabilities, which I think the enemy knows only a little about, and it will meet them when necessary at the right time,” he added.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 349 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 63 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

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