IDF hits Hezbollah air defenses in northeast Lebanon after terror group downs drone

Military says it targeted compound and additional infrastructure in Baalbek region, known to be a Hezbollah stronghold

This image from a video published by Hezbollah on April 7, 2024, shows an Israeli military drone being downed over southern Lebanon. (Hezbollah media office)

The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday that it carried out airstrikes against sites belonging to Hezbollah’s air defense unit in northeastern Lebanon’s Baalbek overnight, after the terror group shot down a military drone.

The targets included a compound and three additional infrastructures relating to Hezbollah’s air defenses in the Baalbek District, the IDF said.

A source close to the terror group told AFP that the strikes hit two areas in the region: Janta an arid, a mountainous region close to the border with Syria, and Sifri, which is in the center of the Bekaa Valley.

A source in Lebanon’s Civil Defense Department said there were no casualties from the strikes.

Baalbek, an area identified in the past as a Hezbollah stronghold, is nearly 100 kilometers from the Israeli border. The overnight strike marked the fifth time amid the war in the Gaza Strip that Israel struck Hezbollah positions in the Baalbek area.

The IDF said the strikes came in response to the terror group shooting down a military drone over southern Lebanon on Saturday with a surface-to-air missile.

Hezbollah initially said it downed an Elbit Hermes 450, but later claimed it was a Hermes 900 model. Both drones are used by the IDF for surveillance and attacks.

The IDF said the incident was under further investigation.

In February, Hezbollah managed to shoot down a Hermes 450 drone, prompting IDF strikes deep in Lebanon for the first time in years.

Additional Hezbollah sites were targeted on Saturday night in Ayta ash-Shab and Odaisseh, the military added.

Tensions in the region have been high since an alleged Israeli strike in Damascus on Monday killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, among them a senior Quds Force commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi. Iran has vowed revenge.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah has said it supports Iran’s right to “punish” Israel, and in televised remarks on Friday, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the response was coming.

Nasrallah warned Friday his group had not yet used its “main weapons” in nearly six months of cross-border exchanges with Israel, which began a day after the Gaza war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack.

“We have not employed our main weapons yet, nor have we used our main forces,” Nasrallah said in the televised speech marking Quds (Jerusalem) Day — an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran and its allies.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech during a gathering to mark annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day commemorations in Beirut’s southern suburb on April 5, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Two Iranian officials quoted on Friday by The New York Times said Iran has made a decision to attack Israel directly, in a move meant to create deterrence.

Israel has braced itself for the possibility of a retaliatory attack, canceling leave for all combat units and mobilizing more troops for air defense units.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in eight civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of ten IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 271 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 53 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 60 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

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