The IDF further bolstered its presence along the Lebanon border Thursday in anticipation of a possible retaliatory attack by Hezbollah for an airstrike on members of the terror group allegedly carried out by Israel on Sunday.
According to defense officials, the IDF has mobilized ground and air forces to the border region and deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries throughout northern Israel as precautionary measures.
Israeli TV reports noted “a massive military presence” in the North, with locals speaking of the highest tension in the area since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
Heightened tensions along the border are the result of a deadly airstrike that killed 12 Lebanese Hezbollah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members near Quneitra, on the border with Syria on Sunday. The dead included an Iranian general and a senior Hezbollah commander, Jihad Mughniyeh, son of slain terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.
The Israeli government has not confirmed it was involved in the airstrike on the record, but officials have admitted as much off the record.
Iranian officials have threatened harsh retaliation against Israel for Sunday’s strike. Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said Tuesday that Israel should anticipate “devastating lightning,” according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, and that Iran would widen its support for Muslim fighters in the Middle East “until the final collapse of the Zionist regime.”
A Kuwaiti newspaper reported Thursday that the Iranian general, Mohammed Allahdadi, was the target of Israel’s alleged aerial strike, countering anonymous Israeli claims that the military was unaware of Allahdadi’s presence in the targeted convoy.
A source also told the paper that Iran was unlikely to respond directly but would instead continue to arm Hezbollah.
An unnamed Israeli official had told Reuters on Tuesday that Israel was sure it was striking “an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence” rather than a high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) general.
But anonymous “knowledgeable sources” told Kuwaiti daily al-Rai that Israel knew exactly who was in the convoy, and why he was visiting the Golan Heights.
On Wednesday, a terror alert was called for northern communities after the army suspected a breech of the border fence with Lebanon, prompting authorities to close nearby roads and instruct local residents to remain indoors due to a possible infiltration by Hezbollah operatives. The alert was called off a short while later after the IDF confirmed that it was a false alarm.
Hours before the infiltration scare on Wednesday, a convoy of civilian vehicles in Lebanon flying Hezbollah flags fired shots in the air near the border.
According to reports in Lebanese media this week, Iran and Hezbollah, in coordination with the Assad regime, were preparing “a large strategic plan” to engage the IDF along the 150-kilometer (93 mile) Israeli border with Syria and Lebanon, and training local militias on the Syrian Golan to combat Israel.
In the wake of rising tensions, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz canceled an upcoming trip to a NATO conference of military chiefs in Europe
The IDF’s Northern Command told residents to expect road closures, an increase of military traffic on roads, and air force activity overhead.
Adiv Sterman and Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.