IDF spots suspects on Lebanon border, but says no breach occurred

IDF spots suspects on Lebanon border, but says no breach occurred

Incident comes as military braces for attack by Hezbollah, which is seeking revenge for a fighter killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Armored vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers are deployed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon on July 27, 2020 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
Armored vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers are deployed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon on July 27, 2020 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

A number of suspects were spotted by the military near the security fence along the Israeli-Lebanese border in the western Galilee on Tuesday night, but after a brief search of the area it was determined that no infiltration had occurred, amid concerns of an imminent Hezbollah attack, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The military said the suspects were seen around the security fence shortly after 9 p.m. Israeli troops searched the area to determine if anyone had indeed crossed the border, while residents of the area were told to remain in their homes and that they may hear the sound of gunfire.

An hour and a half later, the military said it was rescinding the instructions, allowing people to “return to routine,” after it determined that there were no signs of infiltration.

The incident came amid peak tensions in the area as the military braced for violence by Hezbollah along the border after an alleged attempted attack by the terror group on Monday.

Israeli officials expect an attack on Israeli troops by the Lebanese terror group within the next 48 hours, before the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Thursday night, according to a Channel 12 report on Tuesday.

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

Over the past week, Hezbollah has threatened some form of retaliation for the death of one of its fighters last week in Syria in an airstrike that it attributed to Israel, but which the Jewish state has not officially acknowledged conducting.

Though the IDF on Tuesday did not confirm that it expected an attack in the coming two days, it indicated that it was bracing for fresh violence on the border, saying it was sending additional “advanced” firepower in the form of precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles, additional combat intelligence units and special forces to the area.

The move came a day after the IDF said it thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to send a team of fighters into the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, to carry out an attack. According to the military, the Hezbollah cell made it a few meters across the border before IDF troops opened fire at the operatives — apparently not hitting them, but driving them back into Lebanon.

Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.

Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt had been filmed by military security cameras and that the operatives who took part in it were armed. The IDF on Monday said it was considering releasing the footage from the incident, but had yet to do so as of Tuesday afternoon.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The terror group said a reprisal for its fallen operative in Syria was still to come.

The IDF said the decision to send the additional units to the IDF Northern Command was made in light of a “situational assessment.”

Those reinforcements joined an infantry battalion, additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries and other troops that were sent to the Northern Command last week when Hezbollah first began indicating it planned to carry out an attack along the border as revenge for its fallen operative.

The military was on high alert along the northern border on Tuesday, with Lebanese media reporting intensive Israeli drone flights over southern Lebanon throughout the morning. The military also maintained a number of roadblocks in the area, preventing IDF vehicles from traveling on certain highways along the border that were considered vulnerable to attack from Lebanon.

Since Friday, the IDF has deployed a smaller number of troops directly along the frontier, having cleared out personnel who were deemed unnecessary as they would constitute a potential target for Hezbollah. The regular units stationed in the area and reinforcements sent to the region took up positions slightly deeper inside Israel, from a distance at which they could still rapidly respond to any attack by Hezbollah but not so close as to be an easy target for the group’s anti-tank guided missiles — a weapon it has long shown a tremendous knack for.

No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers set up a roadblock on a highway near the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Following the incident on Monday, Israel conveyed messages to Lebanon, through third parties, that it did not want the border altercation to devolve into a war.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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