IDF tanks, troops carry out searches near Lebanon border after troop cutback
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IDF tanks, troops carry out searches near Lebanon border after troop cutback

Military says maneuvers are routine but remains in alert state day after reinforcements reduced, following apparent assessment that chance of Hezbollah attack has decreased

In this photo taken near Kibbutz Misgav Am, Lebanese soldiers and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch from the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh as an IDF Merkava tank takes part in routine maneuvers near the border demarcation line, June 2, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Illustrative: In this photo taken near Kibbutz Misgav Am, Lebanese soldiers and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch from the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh as an IDF Merkava tank takes part in routine maneuvers near the border demarcation line, June 2, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Israel Defense Forces tanks were operating on the border with Lebanon on Tuesday, a day after the Israeli military said it was calling back its reinforcements from the frontier.

The Israeli military said armored and infantry troops were carrying out routine activities in an enclave near Kibbutz Yiftah, including patrols, alongside search and collection operations.

The IDF said in a statement that the maneuvers took place in Israel and “in coordination with the relevant authorities.”

“The IDF continues to maintain increased readiness and to act through near the border to protect the residents of the north,” the military said in a statement.

In this photo taken near Kibbutz Misgav Am, Lebanese soldiers and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch from the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh as IDF Merkava tanks take part in routine maneuvers near the border demarcation line, June 2, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

A report by a French-language newspaper based in Lebanon said the three tanks stayed behind the Blue Line, referring to the unofficial but internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon. L’orient-Le Jour reported that two of the tanks remained after the third left the area.

Israel’s fence along the border is in some areas several dozens of meters inside the Blue Line, meaning there are enclaves on the Lebanese side of the fence that belong to Israel, leading at times to confusion and even confrontations.

The maneuvers came after 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 pullback had 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.

Rescue workers and security officers work at the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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