IDF strikes deeper in Lebanon than for years after Hezbollah shoots down military drone

2 terror operatives killed in strikes near Baalbek, in northeast Lebanon; Israeli air defenses intercept 1 missile fired at UAV, but 2nd one brings it down

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

An Israeli airstrike is seen near Baalbek in northeast Lebanon (left) after a IDF Hermes 450 drone was shot down by a Hezbollah missile (right) over southern Lebanon, February 26, 2024. (Screenshot: X)
An Israeli airstrike is seen near Baalbek in northeast Lebanon (left) after a IDF Hermes 450 drone was shot down by a Hezbollah missile (right) over southern Lebanon, February 26, 2024. (Screenshot: X)

The Israel Defense Forces said Monday said it struck Hezbollah targets “deep” in Lebanon after the terror group shot down a military drone hours earlier, amid ongoing border skirmishes and fears of a wider conflict.

Lebanese media reported strikes near the city of Baalbek in northeast Lebanon, in what appeared to be the deepest publicly confirmed Israeli strikes in Lebanon in years. Two members of the terror group were killed in one of the strikes.

On Monday morning, Hezbollah in a statement said it had downed an Israeli Air Force drone, an Elbit Hermes 450 model, over the Nabatieh area in southern Lebanon with a surface-to-air missile.

Footage posted online showed the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on fire and spiraling out of control.

The IDF confirmed shortly after that one of its UAVs was shot down over southern Lebanon.

It said in a statement that the David’s Sling medium-range air defense system had successfully intercepted a surface-to-air missile fired by Hezbollah at an IDF drone, but a short while later a second missile struck the UAV.

“As a result, the aircraft fell in Lebanese territory,” the IDF said.

The Hermes 450, known in the military as the Zik, is used by the IAF as a surveillance and attack drone.

The IDF’s interceptor missile launch set off sirens in an industrial zone near the northern city of Afula, due to fears of falling shrapnel despite the long distance to the Lebanon border.

Video circulating on social media showed a piece of shrapnel falling in the nearby town of Kfar Tavor, though there were no reports of damage or injuries in the area.

Hezbollah has attempted in recent years, including multiple times during Israel’s ongoing war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, to target Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon, largely without success. The IDF has also struck sites belonging to the terror group’s air defense unit during the ongoing fighting, in a bid to deprive Hezbollah of its anti-aircraft capabilities.

An Elbit Hermes 450 drone comes in for landing at the Palmachim airbase, during Operation Breaking Dawn in early August 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Following the incident, the IDF said it had launched strikes against Hezbollah targets “deep” in Lebanon, and in a later update, said it had targeted several sites belonging to the terror group’s air defense unit in the Beqaa Valley.

Lebanese media said the strikes were carried out near the city of Baalbek.

Baalbek, an area identified in the past as a Hezbollah stronghold, is nearly 100 kilometers from the Israeli border.

Two Hezbollah members were killed in the Israeli strikes near Baalbek. The terror group named them as Hassan Younis and Ahmed Sindian. Another Hezbollah member, Hassan Salami, was killed in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli Air Force also struck the downed aircraft in the Nabatieh area, The Times of Israel learned.

The IDF targeted the remains of the drone to prevent it from falling into Hezbollah’s hands where it could potentially extract intelligence information or reverse engineer the device.

Following the Israeli strikes, Hezbollah carried out several rocket and missile attacks on northern Israel.

In the northern community of Shtula, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a rocket struck a chicken coop, medics said.

Hezbollah also fired dozens of rockets at the Golan Heights, claiming to have targeted an IDF base in the area. There were no reports of injuries.

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.

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

Hezbollah has named 218 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 32 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and more than 30 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Israel has warned that it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the Lebanon frontier, where it could attempt to carry out an attack similar to the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7.

A failure of international diplomacy to force Hezbollah away from the border would necessitate an Israeli offensive, the country has said.

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