Troops come under fire on Lebanon border

IDF says ready to repel Houthi attacks, is striking Gaza ‘at rate not seen in decades’

Military says prepared to protect against potential assaults by Iran-backed Yemen group; northern town Kiryat Shmona to be evacuated; 3 Hezbollah terrorists killed in drone strike

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

Israeli security forces inspect a site where a rocket launched from Lebanon landed in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona near the border on October 19, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
Israeli security forces inspect a site where a rocket launched from Lebanon landed in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona near the border on October 19, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The Israeli Air Force is ready to repel attacks by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and is carrying out retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip “at a rate that has not been seen for decades,” IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Friday.

On Thursday, a US Navy ship intercepted a number of missiles and drones launched from Yemen, apparently toward Israel.

Hagari said that the Israeli military is prepared to protect against potential attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis.

“This shows the defense capabilities of the US, and their ability to build a picture of the region,” Hagari said, noting the close relationship the IDF has with the US Central Command.

“Israel has some of the world’s best air defenses, and is prepared for threats like these,” he added.

US officials said Thursday that the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer, was in the Red Sea and intercepted the three missiles. Unnamed Israeli officials told Hebrew-language media that the missiles were fired in the direction of Israel.

The US Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) operates in the Mediterranean Sea, July 1, 2017. (US Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Xavier Jimenez/Released)

Hagari also said the military struck more than 100 targets in the Gaza Strip overnight, including one that killed Amjad Majed Muhammad Abu ‘Odeh, a member of Hamas’s naval forces who participated in the October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

Another overnight strike targeted a Hamas aerial forces squad after they attempted to fire missiles at Israeli fighter jets, the IDF said.

A picture taken from Sderot on October 20, 2023, shows smoke ascending over the northern Gaza Strip following an Israeli airstrike (Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP)

Additionally, an underground tunnel, a weapons warehouse, and dozens of command centers were also hit.

The IDF also said it hit a mosque in the Jabaliya neighborhood of Gaza City which contained Hamas assets and weapons and was used by Hamas as an observation post and a staging ground.

Rocket fire toward southern towns renewed on Friday after an overnight lull.

Two projectiles fell in Sderot, causing damage but no injuries in the border town that has now largely been evacuated of residents. Sirens were also heard in Ashkelon.

Meanwhile, the military ordered the evacuation of Kiryat Shmona amid escalating tensions on the northern border — the town has a population of some 22,000 residents, though many have already left.

On Thursday, three residents were injured by a rocket strike on a home in what appeared to be the most serious attack on the city since 2006.

Earlier this week, the ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority began working to evacuate all communities within two kilometers of the Lebanon border.

The Israel Defense Forces also said it struck several more sites belonging to the Hezbollah terror group in southern Lebanon overnight in response to Thursday’s rocket and missile fire on northern Israel.

Separately, the IDF said it carried out a drone strike killing a terror operative in the area of the northern border.

No further details were given on the terror operative, including his affiliation or what he was planning to carry out.

Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon, the IDF said troops operating near the northern town of Margaliot, on the Lebanon border, came under fire.

The IDF did not immediately provide information on potential casualties.

It said troops returned fire and were scanning the area for suspects who may have infiltrated into Israeli territory and fled.

In an apparently separate incident, the IDF said it carried out a drone strike on three Hezbollah terrorists who were identified by forces in southern Lebanon near Israel’s security barrier.

Also, the IDF said snipers opened fire at gunmen who were identified near a different part of the border fence.

In a briefing last week, a military official indicated that conditions on the northern border could affect the IDF’s decision-making on when to launch an incursion into Gaza.

On Thursday, senior Israeli officials talked up the prospect of an imminent large-scale ground campaign in the Gaza Strip to root out the Hamas terror group, making a series of visits to Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed near the territory and predicting that the fighting will be “difficult, long and intense,” but ultimately victorious.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops near Gaza that the order to enter the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave would come “soon.”

“You now see Gaza from afar, soon you will see it from the inside,” Gallant told troops of the Givati Brigade. “The order will come.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also paid a visit to the frontlines, rallying a group of Golani soldiers near the Gaza border and telling them Israel was on its way to a major victory.

“We are going to win with all our might,” Netanyahu told the group of soldiers. “All of Israel is behind you, and we are going to heavily strike our enemies so that we can achieve victory.”

The head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, said the expected ground offensive would be “long and intense.”

Israel has for the past week urged all residents of northern Gaza, some one million people, to evacuate to the center and south of the Strip as it prepares to intensify operations in the enclave’s north.

Hundreds of thousands have done so, according to the military, despite Hamas urging them not to leave their homes and in some cases putting up roadblocks.

Palestinians at a temporary tent camp set up for Gazans evacuated from their homes, on the grounds of a UNRWA facility in Khan Younis, Gaza, October 19, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In a further sign the start of the ground offensive may be looming, Netanyahu’s security cabinet, the body which must approve a ground incursion, met Thursday evening for some six hours. The forum has convened many times throughout the war already.

War erupted after some 2,500 Hamas-led terrorists blasted through the Israeli border fence on October 7, streamed into Israel via land, sea and air under a barrage of thousands of rockets, and killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians.

Terrorists also took at least 203 hostages of all ages into Gaza and are holding them captive. Some 30 of the captives are children under the age of 16, and another 10 to 20 are over the age of 60.

Some 100 to 200 people remain unaccounted for, with bodies still being found and the actual number of hostages held captive in Gaza still unknown.

Israel called up 360,000 reservists in the wake of the massacre and has vowed to eliminate Hamas, which has been the de facto ruler in the Strip since 2006.

With tanks and weapons mustering near the Gaza border, reports have indicated that the military is awaiting a green light from the political leadership.

The charred interior of a building in kibbutz Nir Oz along the border with the Gaza Strip can be seen on October 19, 2023, following the October 7 attack by Hamas terrorists. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Recent days have seen growing pressure on the government to devise a clear strategy for how it plans to avoid getting bogged down in a lengthy reoccupation of the Strip, while ensuring the Palestinian enclave is no longer managed by the terror group and no longer poses a threat.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has also been privately pressing Israel to flesh out its exit strategy, the Israeli official and a US official said at the time. Netanyahu and his inner circle indicated to their American counterparts that Israel had not yet come up with such a strategy and is more focused on the immediate goal of removing Hamas from power in Gaza, the US official said.

On Wednesday, Biden cautioned Israel against getting bogged down in Gaza indefinitely, drawing on the US’s experiences in Afghanistan following its 2001 invasion to topple the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

“Justice must be done,” Biden said in Tel Aviv. “But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it… After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Jacob Magid, Lazar Berman, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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