Israel said to warn Hezbollah amid rising tensions in north

Israel said to warn Hezbollah amid rising tensions in north

Days after airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel kills Lebanese terror group member, Jerusalem sends message via UN cautioning against retaliation, according to Al Mayadeen

Israeli military forces seen stationed along the border with Lebanon following a state of alert in the north, July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)
Israeli military forces seen stationed along the border with Lebanon following a state of alert in the north, July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Israel has reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah warning the Lebanese terror group against any retaliatory action in response to the killing of one of the organization’s fighters in an airstrike in Syria on Monday night, which was attributed to Israel.

According to a report on Saturday in Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese news network closely associated with Hezbollah, Israel conveyed that it did not know the member — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — was near the targets in southern Syria and did not intend to kill him. Israel has refused to comment on the incident, keeping its policy of ambiguity regarding its operations against Iran and its proxies in Syria.

The message was delivered via UN intermediaries and Hezbollah refused to adhere to the “warnings and threats from Israel,” according to the Al Mayadeen report.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, which maintains a presence in the Syrian Golan Heights, have been high since the attack five days ago, and threatened to simmer over the weekend as the Israeli military stepped up its defenses along the country’s northern borders out of concern over an attack against military targets along the frontier.

Israel has also warned Beirut it would bear responsibility for any possible Hezbollah strike.

Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of the Hezbollah terror group, whom the organization says was killed in an Israeli airstrike on July 20, 2020. (Hezbollah media)

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate to losses of its soldiers 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.

The airstrike attributed to Israel on Monday night hit weapons depots and military positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militia fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said the aerial bombardments caused several explosions around the town of Kiswah, an area that has long been associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Reuters news service reported that the assault hit targets in the towns of Jabal al Mane, Muqaylabiya and Zakiya, causing “huge blasts” and allegedly killing Iranian personnel.

On Friday night, Israeli attack helicopters struck several military targets in southern Syria belonging to the Syrian military, in response to munitions fired at Israel earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Targets included “observation positions and intelligence-gathering tools inside Syrian posts,” the military said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes injured two soldiers, hit three sites and caused fires.

Arabic media reports said missiles had hit anti-aircraft batteries near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights.

The incident in the morning saw explosions heard along the border and shrapnel striking a home and a car on the Israeli side in the Druze town of Majdal Shams, causing light damage. The cause was reported to be either anti-aircraft fire toward an IDF observation balloon or an artillery shell fired from Syria toward Israel, possibly by accident.

“The IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible for the fire against Israel earlier today,” the army said in a statement. “The IDF will continue operating with determination and will respond to any violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

Also Friday, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. Israeli television commentators speculated on the possible significance of the visit, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

“In light of a situational assessment in the IDF and in accordance with the Northern Command’s defense plan, the IDF’s deployment will change in both the military and civilian arena. with the goal of strengthening defenses along the northern border,” the IDF said in the statement.

In a tacit threat, the IDF preemptively warned Beirut that it sees the state of Lebanon as “responsible for all actions emanating from Lebanon.”

Israel Defense Forces soldiers stationed along the border with Lebanon on July 23, 2020. (Basel Awidat/FLASH90)

Beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday night, roadblocks were installed along a number of highways to prevent military vehicles vulnerable to attack from anti-tank guided missiles fired from either Lebanon or Syria, from driving on certain roads.

Entrances to some communities where the military maintains a presence that are exposed to attack were also blocked for IDF vehicles. As the military assessed that Hezbollah planned to attack only IDF targets, civilian vehicles will be able to travel freely throughout the area.

However, the IDF said that some farmers who have fields directly along the border may be blocked from working their lands.

The military also cleared some troops out of positions directly along the border, moving them deeper into Israel, so that they would not represent a clear target for Hezbollah, while still allowing them to defend the frontier.

The IDF has also stepped up its intelligence collection efforts along the border in recent days. Throughout the day on Friday, Lebanese media reported on large numbers of Israeli drones flying overhead.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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