Israel ready for fight in north, IDF chief says after killing of Hamas terror chief

IDF tank shells terror cell in southern Lebanon as Hezbollah claims 10 attacks in last day; residents of the north brace for response to killing of Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center) tours Israel's northern border, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center) tours Israel's northern border, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi told security officials Wednesday evening that the military was in a “very strong state of readiness in the north,” speaking during a visit to the border with Lebanon after repeated cross-border attacks carried out by the Hezbollah terror group.

His remarks came a day after Israel allegedly assassinated Hamas’s deputy political chief Saleh Al-Arouri, in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Hezbollah, which has been carrying out daily attacks on northern Israel since October 8, has vowed to respond to the killing of the terror commander, claiming, like Israel, that its fighters are at heightened readiness to retaliate.

“We are in a very strong state of readiness in the north under my impression. I visit here a lot, I think readiness is at its peak,” Halevi said during an assessment with Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, the commander of the 210th Regional Division, Brig. Gen. Zion Ratzon, and commanders of reservist units on the border.

“We are very well prepared in all areas, and we are currently focusing on fighting Hamas,” Halevi added.

Discussing both the war against Hamas in Gaza and the daily clashes with Hezbollah and allied Palestinian terror factions on the Lebanese border, Halevi told the military officials that despite the difficult circumstances that led to the war, it has proven to provide “some kind of opportunity to change the situation in a very significant way,” both in the south and north.

Looking to the future, Halevi said that Israel would be implementing changes in its routine defense practices.

“We are going to have, at least for the next year, many more forces on the borders, and we will achieve something much stronger,” he told the officials. “Because this incident, and how difficult it is, cannot repeat itself, that’s for sure,” Halevi added, referring to Hamas’s October 7 massacres, in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were slaughtered in southern Israel, and around 240 others were seized as hostages.

In response to the brutal terror onslaught, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, where the Palestinian terror group has ruled since 2007, launching an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation.

At the same time fighting has raged in the south, Hezbollah and the Israeli military have been exchanging cross-border fire almost daily for close to three months. So far, the Lebanese terror group has appeared reluctant to dramatically escalate the fighting, although a response to the killing of Arouri could send the conflict spiraling into an all-out war on the northern border.

Lebanese civil defense members spray with water the street by the building that was hit by an Israeli strike targeting Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in the southern suburb of Beirut on January 3, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

The skirmishes on the border since October 8 have resulted in four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers.

Hezbollah has named 143 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, five of them in the last day, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 19 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

The spiraling cross-border clashes continued on Wednesday, with Hezbollah claiming to have launched 10 attacks on northern Israel by the early evening.

In one such attack, the terror group claimed it fired a Burkan heavy short-range missile at a military position in northern Israel near the border town of Malkia.

At the time, Army Radio reported that an anti-tank missile caused damage to the town’s electricity infrastructure.

Home Front Command data showed that sirens sounded at 4:35 p.m. in the town of Dovev, some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Malkia, and there was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities on the incident.

An Israeli artillery unit takes position in Upper Galilee, in northern Israel, close to the border with Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

In response to the repeated rocket and missile fire, the IDF said it had struck a Hezbollah cell in southern Lebanon, and a fighter jet was said to hit a site belonging to the terror group.

The IDF also said that an Israeli tank had shelled a terror cell operating in south Lebanon.

Fear of all-out war on the northern front

Addressing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a speech on Wednesday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that Israel “will not succeed in achieving the war’s goals.

He also falsely claimed that Israel is hiding thousands of casualties from Hezbollah attacks and that “hundreds of thousands” have left the country since October 7.

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