IDF scales back reinforcements on Lebanese border, but stays on alert

Move appears to indicate military’s assessment of a decreased chance of Hezbollah attack, following three weeks of heightened readiness

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers guard at a roadblock in the upper Galilee in northern Israel on July 27, 2020. (Flash90)
Israeli soldiers guard at a roadblock in the upper Galilee in northern Israel on July 27, 2020. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Monday evening began calling back its reinforcements along the Lebanese border and removing roadblocks from the area following a “situational assessment,” the military said.

The move appeared to indicate that the IDF believes there is a decreasing chance of attack by the Hezbollah terror group, which has threatened revenge for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike in Syria that was widely attributed to Israel.

Defense analysts in Israel and abroad assessed that Hezbollah would defer from carrying out its retaliation in light of the massive explosion in Beirut last week, which rocked the capital and led to the resignation of the Lebanese government Monday amid bitter protests by the country’s citizens.

“In accordance with the continuous situational assessment taking place in the IDF, some of the restrictions on military vehicles have been removed and a number of roadblocks have been opened in the area of the northern border,” the IDF said in a statement.

“In addition, pinpoint scale-backs of reinforcement troops in the area have begun,” the military said.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights on July 27, 2020. ( David Cohen/Flash90)

Despite the decrease in reinforcements, the remaining troops in the area were ordered to remain at a heightened state of readiness.

Throughout the past three weeks in which the army has been on high alert, no restrictions have been put in place on civilians in the area, as the IDF assessed that a Hezbollah attack would be directed against a military target only.

Immediately following the explosion in the Beirut port, the IDF remained at full readiness along the Lebanese border. The following evening, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi decided to permit some soldiers to go on leave, which they’d been denied during the recent period of tensions period, in an apparent initial indication that the threat of Hezbollah retaliation had decreased.

The military said the decision was made to allow the troops some relief.

Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020 (AFP)

Israel had been bracing for a possible attack from Hezbollah in retaliation for a July 20 airstrike in Syria attributed to the IDF, in which a member of the Iran-backed terror group was killed.

Defensively, the IDF moved troops away from areas vulnerable to attack and stepped up surveillance along the frontiers, and to prepare for the need to retaliate forcefully, the IDF also deployed infantry, special forces and artillery reinforcements to the area.

The IDF credits its heightened state of alertness with foiling an attempted attack by Hezbollah on July 26, in which a group of at least three armed operatives entered the Israeli-controlled area of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, along the border.

Hezbollah denied carrying out the attack, saying the IDF’s claims were “absolutely false.” The group also said that it still plans to retaliate for the killing of its member.

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