Army intercepts drone headed for Israeli territory

Metula missile attack injures 3; IDF kills Hezbollah cell trying to infiltrate border

Israel responds to repeated anti-tank fire by shelling southern Lebanon; military says drone struck suspects as they attempted to plant bomb near border fence with front heating up

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon, October 16, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon, October 16, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Israel’s military killed four Hezbollah gunmen who attempted to infiltrate into the north of the country via Lebanon Tuesday morning, the army and the terror group said. Meanwhile, anti-tank missiles were fired at two border towns and several army posts, in the latest in a series of deadly incidents on the quickly heating border.

Two rockets were also launched from Lebanon into Israel, causing no damage.

Soldiers monitoring surveillance cameras observed a group approaching the Israel-Lebanon frontier and placing an explosive device near the barrier, close to the northern Israel community of Hanita, the Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday.

The IDF published footage showing a drone strike against the cell, apparently killing all four people. In later statements, Hezbollah said five of its operatives had been killed “performing jihad,” without elaborating where they were killed.

Hours later, the IDF said anti-tank guided missiles were fired from Lebanon at Metula, one of 28 communities being evacuated from the north under the increasing threat of war.

Three people — two IDF reservists and one civilian — were taken to Ziv Medical Center in Safed after the attack. The hospital said one, a reservist, was listed in moderate-to-serious condition, while the other two men were lightly hurt.

The IDF said tanks responded by shelling the launch site in southern Lebanon.

The Hezbollah terror group claimed the missile attack.

One of the people injured in a cross-border missile attack from Lebanon toward the town of Metula is brought to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, October 17, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

After that, the IDF said another four anti-tank guided missiles were fired from Lebanon, one at a military post near the northern community of Margaliot, two near Kibbutz Yiftah, and another at the town of Zar’it.

The military said a number of other military posts along the Lebanon border had been attacked with gunfire. Hezbollah in recent days has claimed responsibility for shooting at Israeli surveillance equipment along the border.

The IDF said it responded with artillery shelling toward the sources of the missile fire and gunfire, and carried out strikes against a number of Hezbollah posts in the area.

The IDF said no soldiers were hurt in the later attacks.

In the afternoon two rockets were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel, setting off sirens in Kiryat Shmona. The military said one of the projectiles was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, while the second landed in an open field, causing no damage.

It also said a drone heading toward Israeli airspace was intercepted by the Iron Dome over the Lebanon border. It said no sirens sounded in the incident as no towns were under any threat.

The incidents were the latest in a series of increasingly frequent skirmishes on the northern border with the Iran-backed Hezbollah as well as Hamas operatives there. The tit-for-tat attacks have remained limited in scope, amid threats from Israel that Lebanon could suffer if Hezbollah steps up its attacks.

They have come as Israel is waging war in Gaza against Hamas after the terror group’s murderous assault on the country on October 7 in which more than 1,300 people were massacred and at least 199 were kidnapped and taken to the Strip.

“If Hezbollah makes a mistake, we will respond with great force. Lebanon should ask itself whether it wants to endanger itself for Islamic State terrorists in Gaza,” IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said following the suspected border infiltration attempt.

There have been escalating warnings from Iran regarding the possibility of the war being widened, as Israel prepares a ground offensive with the stated goal of toppling Hamas’s rule over the Palestinian enclave.

Israel and the US have both warned Iran and Hezbollah to remain on the sidelines, with Washington dispatching two aircraft carrier groups to the region, signaling it could step in to defend Israel.

Gen. Michael Kurilla, head of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), landed in Israel Tuesday to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other defense officials, the IDF said.

As the area has heated up, the IDF and Defense Ministry announced Monday that they were planning to evacuate civilians who live in towns up to two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the Lebanese border, due to repeated rocket and missile attacks by Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions in recent days.

The ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) said the estimated 27,000 residents would be taken to state-funded guesthouses.

Israeli soldiers patrol along a road near the border between Israel and Lebanon, in Israel, October 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

According to the IDF and Defense Ministry, the 28 communities included in the plan were: Ghajar, Dishon, Kfar Yuval, Margaliot, Metula, Avivim, Dovev, Ma’ayan Baruch, Bar’am, Manara, Yiftah, Malkia, Misgav Am, Yir’on, Dafna, Arab al-Aramshe, Shlomi, Netu’a, Ya’ara, Shtula, Matat, Zar’it, Shomera, Betzet, Adamit, Rosh Hanikra, Hanita, and Kfar Giladi.

Many residents in northern border towns had already evacuated southward, due to the escalating attacks from Lebanon.

Hagari said Monday morning that Hezbollah would face a “deadly” response if it continued to carry out attacks against Israel.

“We have increased our forces on the northern border and will respond aggressively to any activity against us,” Hagari said. “If Hezbollah dares to test us, the reaction will be deadly. The United States is giving us full backing.”

Nonetheless, Hezbollah opened fire with light arms at a number of Israeli military posts on the Lebanon border and launched a missile at a tank Monday evening.

According to the IDF, no soldiers were hurt in the attacks. The military said it immediately responded with artillery fire at the sources of the gunfire and missile attack.

The IDF later carried out airstrikes against a number of Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

On Sunday, Hezbollah launched six anti-tank guided missiles at an Israeli town and military positions on the Lebanon border, killing one civilian and one soldier.

First responders on the scene of a rocket attack in Shtula, northern Israel, October 15, 2023. (MDA)

Another nine rockets were also launched from Lebanon at northern towns, causing no damage or injuries. Hamas terror group later claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.

The IDF said it shelled the sources of the missile and rocket fire with artillery and carried out a number of airstrikes against sites belonging to Hezbollah.

In total, at least five Israeli soldiers, ten Hezbollah terrorists and five Palestinian terrorists have been killed in the exchanges. One Israeli civilian was killed in the Hezbollah attack Sunday, and two Lebanese civilians and a journalist were also reported killed by Israeli shelling.

An Israeli Merkava tank drives into position in the north of Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 15, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

With alert levels high, Hezbollah said Friday it would be “fully prepared” to join its Palestinian ally Hamas in the war against Israel when the time is right.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw more than 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,4300 people and seizing 200-250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen rampaged through border communities were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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