A group of Lebanese suspects, identified as members of the Hezbollah terror group, attempted to damage Israel’s northern frontier border fence on Wednesday afternoon before fleeing after the military set off a non-lethal blast.
The incident, which appeared to be the latest in a series of Hezbollah provocations along the northern border, came on the 17th anniversary of the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that troops had foiled an attempt by a number of unidentified Lebanese suspects to damage the border fence near the northern town of Zar’it.
The IDF published a video showing the suspects approaching and touching the barrier before a small explosion was seen.
A security source in southern Lebanon told the AFP news agency that three Hezbollah members were “lightly” wounded in the incident. The IDF claimed it did not know the identity of the suspects, but Defense Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed they were Hezbollah members.
According to Israeli military sources, troops used a non-lethal explosive charge placed there in advance, in order to prevent such incidents of suspects attempting to damage the fence.
Gallant, before departing on an official trip to Azerbaijan, said the IDF “deterred Hezbollah activists with non-lethal means and will continue to guard the security of the State of Israel.”
“Anyone who tests us will get a response,” he added.
Several hours after the incident, Israeli forces fired warning shots at a group of Hezbollah activists who launched fireworks and set fires near the northern Israeli town of Metula, during a protest to mark 17 years since the month-long Second Lebanon War.
The blazes and warning shots were reported by both local Israeli and Lebanese reporters. A military source said the fires caused a number of old landmines to explode in the area.
פעילי חיזבאללה מפגינים בשעה זו מול מטולה לרגל יום השנה ה 17 למלחמת לבנון השנייה. הפעילים הציתו אש על הגבול ומנופפים בדגלי האירגון וקוראים קריאות גנאי נגד ישראל. כוחות צה"ל שפרוסים באיזור ביצעו ירי אזהרה. pic.twitter.com/1NGPxBoFhg
— Rubi Hammerschlag | רובי המרשלג (@rubih67) July 12, 2023
“The IDF will continue to prevent any attempt to violate Israeli sovereignty and damage to the northern security fence,” the military said in a statement.
Tensions have increased in recent weeks amid Hezbollah activity along the border, which IDF officials have branded as “provocations.”
Two tents manned by armed Hezbollah members were discovered in early June on Israeli territory north of the internationally recognized border (the so-called Blue Line) in the contested Mount Dov region, also known as the Shebaa Farms. One tent was removed after Israel reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah threatening an armed confrontation if it did not remove the outpost soon.
Last week, an anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon at the contested village of Ghajar, causing no injuries.
In another incident last week, dozens of Lebanese soldiers along with some Hezbollah members crossed into Israeli territory without passing the border fence itself, before eventually heading back, Army Radio reported.
And last month, Hezbollah said it shot down an Israeli drone flying over a village in southern Lebanon.
The boundary between Israel and Lebanon, known as the Blue Line, is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.
The Mount Dov area where the tents were erected, also known as Shebaa Farms, was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and later effectively annexed along with the Golan Heights. The Lebanese government says the area belongs to Lebanon.
Israel has relayed requests via the UN to have the tents removed, while in response, Lebanon and Hezbollah have demanded that Israel withdraw from Ghajar.
Ghajar, the only Alawite-majority settlement in Israel, was part of the territory captured from Syria in 1967 and was effectively annexed by Israel in 1981 together with the Golan Heights.
Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the demarcation of the Blue Line, the village was split in two, with the northern half coming officially under Lebanese control. Israel regained control over the entire village during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and residents have repeatedly objected to the potential division of the village and annexation of its northern half to Lebanon.
The town remained a closed military zone for more than two decades, with special permission required for nonresidents seeking to enter or exit. In September, with the construction of a barrier north of the village to block the entrance from Lebanon, access restrictions were lifted.
Hezbollah has long been the IDF’s most potent adversary on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.