UN officials warn miscalculation could lead to wider conflict

Hezbollah strikes north in latest revenge attacks for commander killed by Israel

Missiles launched by terror group hit Mount Meron air traffic control base but IDF says ‘no harm to the unit’s capabilities’; Israeli strike targets terror operative in Lebanon

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

Smoke billows from fires ignited by Israeli shelling on the forested areas of the southern Lebanese village of Deir Mimas on June 15, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)
Smoke billows from fires ignited by Israeli shelling on the forested areas of the southern Lebanese village of Deir Mimas on June 15, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)

Two missiles launched from Lebanon on Saturday struck the Israeli military’s sensitive Mount Meron air traffic control base, amid growing international concern the cross-border fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could descend into a full-scale conflict.

The Israel Defense Forces said there were no injuries and “no harm to the unit’s capabilities” in the attack.

Hezbollah took responsibility for the incident, claiming to have targeted equipment at the base with guided missiles.

The terror group has attacked Mount Meron, located some eight kilometers (five miles) from the Lebanon border, several times throughout the ongoing war. It has launched large barrages of rockets at the mountain, as well as guided missiles at the air traffic control base that sits atop it.

In another attack on Saturday, several explosive-laden drones launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon impacted near the northern community of Goren, sparking a fire. The IDF said it was investigating why it failed to down the drones.

Hezbollah in a statement claimed to have targeted a military base in the area. Like the missile attack on Mount Meron, the Iran-backed terror organization said the strike was carried out in response to Israel’s targeting this week of Taleb Sami Abdullah, the most senior Hezbollah commander killed so far in the fighting.

Meanwhile, the IDF confirmed carrying out a strike against a Hezbollah operative in southern Lebanon’s Aitaroun on Saturday morning. Video released by the military showed the strike against the operative riding a motorcycle.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad later announced the death of a member in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, though it was unclear if it was the same attack.

He was named as Zuhair Jalbout, 45. No further details were given on the circumstances of his death.

Numerous Islamic Jihad operatives have been killed in Israeli strikes on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon during the ongoing fighting.

On Saturday night, the IDF said fighter jets struck a Hezbollah weapons depot in southern Lebanon’s Aitaroun. The IDF said jets hit several more Hezbollah targets in the town, including a building used by the terror group. Additional Hezbollah infrastructure was struck in Chihine, and another building used by the terror group was hit in Ayta ash-Shab, the military added.

In a strike on Friday night, the IDF said fighter jets targeted a building in southern Lebanon’s Kafr Kila that was allegedly used by Hezbollah and was adjacent to an area from which the terror group fired rockets at Metula on Friday.

The latest skirmishes came as CBS News reported that US officials are increasingly concerned that an all-out war could break out between Israel and Hezbollah due to increasingly deeper attacks by the two sides.

Some US officials told the American network they believe recent Israeli strikes deeper in Lebanese territory were setting the stage for a broader operation, which they expressed concern would spark a war that Israel cannot complete without Washington’s support.

Other US officials quoted in the report said they were worried by a scenario in which intensifying Hezbollah rocket attacks could result in “unintended consequences” that give Israel cause to launch a major offensive.

On Saturday, two senior United Nations officials said they were “deeply concerned” about the escalation on the border. “The danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real,” said UN special coordinator for Lebanon Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Aroldo Lazaro.

In a joint statement, they urged “all actors to cease their fire and commit to working toward a political and diplomatic solution”.

In light of the US concerns, the Axios news site reported Friday that Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, will arrive in Israel on Monday to try to put a lid on the escalation.

US envoy Amos Hochstein, left, meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv on March 5, 2024. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)

As part of the diplomatic efforts to defuse the tensions, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Paris, Washington and Jerusalem would form a contract group to work on doing so, though Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday ruled out Israeli involvement in comments that prompted a public spat with the Foreign Ministry.

Hezbollah has been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8, which it says it’s doing in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, amid the war started by ally Hamas’s terror onslaught.

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 342 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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