The head of the IDF warned Beirut Sunday that the army would continue to thwart terror group Hezbollah and said any future war with the Shiite group would take place on Lebanese territory, as tensions rose over airstrikes against the group in Syria.
In a “future war, there will be a clear address: the state of Lebanon and the terror groups operating in its territory and under its authority,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said during a ceremony at an army base in northern Israel.
On Friday, Israeli planes struck deep inside Lebanon to thwart an arms transfer to the terror group. On Sunday, another IDF strike was reported in the Syrian Golan against a fighter for a pro-regime militia with links to Hezbollah.
Eizenkot warned that Hezbollah was bolstering its military capabilities and operating south of the Litani river near the border with Israel, against a UN-brokered ceasefire, following the 2006 war between Israel and the terror group.
“In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to arm itself and strengthen itself,” he said at the ceremony marking the change in the head of the Northern Command. “We will continue to act divisively to thwart these efforts and will continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” he said.
While maintaining calm along the border is of “mutual interest” for both the Israeli and Lebanese governments, Eiskenkot said the inevitable next round of hostilities with the terror group would largely take place in Lebanon.
Hezbollah was supposed to be disarmed under the 2006 ceasefire, with the Lebanese army the only armed group in the country, but the group has continued to broadcast military strength, including fighting alongside regime troops in Syria. With the group a major part of the Lebanese government, the country’s leaders have largely backed Hezbollah continuing to maintain its own militia.
Eisenkot’s remarks Sunday afternoon came as the Israeli air force reportedly struck a truck in southern Syria, killing a senior member of a jihadist militia.
On Friday, Israeli fighter jets struck several targets in Syria, targeting what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Israeli airstrike prompted retaliatory missile launches, in the most serious incident between Syria and the Jewish state since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
Syria’s military claimed it downed one of the Israeli planes and hit another, as they were carrying out the predawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra that it recaptured from jihadists this month.
The IDF denied that any of its planes were hit. The Syrian government has made similar claims in the past.
An Israeli army statement said “several anti-aircraft missiles” were fired following the raid, but that none hit their targets.
One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems next time they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.
“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.
In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.
Israel does not usually confirm or deny individual raids, but it may have been led to do so over the weekend because of the circumstances of the incident.
Agencies contributed to this report.