IDF calls off major drill, puts forces on alert amid fears of Hezbollah attack

Lebanese terror group releases video threatening to attack northern Israel, warning ‘do not relax for a second,’ IDF spokesman to stay on in role past scheduled replacement date

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers stand next to a self-propelled artillery gun near the Lebanese border outside the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona on August 31, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
Israeli soldiers stand next to a self-propelled artillery gun near the Lebanese border outside the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona on August 31, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday postponed a massive exercise scheduled for next week in light of ongoing concerns of a reprisal attack by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group that continued to issue threats.

The military said it had also begun preparing ground, air and naval troops for the possibility of an outbreak of violence in northern Israel, specifically in the Galilee region.

Tensions with Hezbollah and its patron Iran have soared over the past week, after the IDF last Saturday night detected an attempt by Iranian operatives — including two Hezbollah members — in Syria to carry out an attack on northern Israel with armed drones and attacked their base, and following a drone attack in Beirut that reportedly destroyed key components of a joint Hezbollah-Iran project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon, which has been attributed to Israel.

On Saturday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened that the response to last week’s events would come from Lebanon and could strike anywhere along the border, including Shebaa Farms, the site of a reprisal attack by Hezbollah in 2015 after several senior members of the group were killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the retaliatory strike and seven were injured.

Shebaa Farms, known in Hebrew as Mount Dov, and the adjacent Kfar Chouba hills are small patches of land captured by Israel from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and kept under Israel’s control since. Lebanon maintains that the strip of land is its territory, though it was under Syrian control from the 1950s until it was captured in 1967 along with the Golan Heights.

The IDF believes Hezbollah intends to again attack Israeli soldiers or a military installation on the border, and not civilians.

An IDF artillery piece being transferred to the Lebanon border on August 31, 2019. (Screen capture/Twitter)

In light of the terror group’s threats, the Israeli military has been on high alert over the past week, restricting soldiers’ movements in vulnerable areas, canceling weekend leave for troops in the IDF Northern Command and reportedly sending artillery and other heavy equipment to the Lebanese border.

“In the past week, IDF troops — including ground, air, naval and intelligence forces — have improved their preparedness for a variety of scenarios in the area of the Northern Command and the Galilee Division,” the army said in a statement.

The IDF exercise planned for this week will instead be merged with another large-scale drill scheduled for September 8 to 12, the army said.

“Reservist who were invited to the exercise have received a message with the updated times for their arrivals,” the IDF said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi meets with Northern Command head Maj. Gen. Amir Baram and other senior officers in northern Israel on August 30, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi also ordered IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis, who was due to finish his tenure this week, to remain in his position for the time being in light of the heightened tensions.

The army said Manelis’s successor — Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman — will take over the role at another time.

On Saturday night, the Iran-backed terror group released a new Hebrew-language video threatening to attack northern Israel, using portions of a speech made by Nasrallah following last week’s attacks and video footage apparently filmed along the border.

“I am telling residents of the north and residents of all of occupied Palestine, do not rest, do not relax for a second,” the terrorist leader shouts in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles, over images of northern Israeli towns.

Earlier on Saturday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that a flare launched by Israel operating along the border had fallen in a UNIFIL base inside Lebanon, causing a fire to break out. There were no injuries.

The Lebanese news agency also reported that several explosions were heard along the border and that an additional fire had broken out the Israeli side of the border near Mount Dov. Responding to a query on the matter, the army said that the fire had been started by IDF activity in the area and that the blaze had been contained.

The army refused to comment on the nature of this activity.

On Friday, Kohavi toured the border a day after the army canceled leave for combat soldiers in the area, and head of the IDF Northern Command warned Israel would offer a “harsh” response to any Hezbollah attack.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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