The new commander of the IDF’s Ground Forces said Thursday the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah was still planning to carry out a surprise invasion of northern Israel, despite the recent Israeli operation to uncover and destroy an extensive network of cross-border attack tunnels dug by the Iran-backed militia.
Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick was tapped to lead the military’s Ground Forces in February, amid increased criticism charging that Israeli troops were not prepared for war. His comments came less than four months months after the IDF concluded its anti-tunnel operation along the Lebanese border.
“Hezbollah still has plans to invade the Galilee,” he told the Ynet news site in an interview, referring to entering Israeli territory through a cross-border tunnel network. “Of course we won’t allow that to happen, we will thwart these plans.”
In December, Israel accused Hezbollah of digging cross-border tunnels into its territory from southern Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them.
According to the army, Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities.
The IDF did not give a total figure for the tunnels found, though it announced in January that six were destroyed during the course of the operation.
Strick also voiced support for declaring war on Lebanon.
“In the next war, it would be a mistake for us to distinguish between the state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, since Hezbollah is a political actor and part of the government,” Strick said.
In such a conflict, “if it were up to me, I would recommend declaring war on Lebanon and Hezbollah,” he said. “I have no doubt what the outcome will be… It will be a decisive victory.”
Strick also addressed Israel’s efforts to combat Iranian troops in Syria, saying the ongoing airstrikes have been “very effective” in limiting Tehran’s military entrenchment near the Israeli border.
“In the area referred to as ‘southern Syria,’ our operations have been very effective, and they have actually pushed the Iranians out [of that area],” he said.
“In those places, Iran’s presence is so weak it’s almost nonexistent,” he said, adding that Iranian forces are entrenched elsewhere in Syria.
Strick also threatened to destroy Syria’s S-300 system if were to be used against Israeli fighter jets, regardless of the potential blowback Jerusalem would face from Russia, which provided its ally Syria with the powerful air defense battery.
“I don’t see our freedom of operation as being diminished,” he said. “If these batteries are used, the air force will eliminate that threat. We know how to do it.”
“It’s a legitimate course of action that is in accordance with the rules of engagement, and I assume that it will happen,” Strick told the news site, though he conceded the move could “complicate” relations with Moscow.
In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside Hezbollah and Russia, are fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security, and of attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This once quiet fight has become increasingly public in recent months, with each side issuing public threats.