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Israel tells UN: Hezbollah cell crossed border with sniper rifle, fatigues

Ambassador Erdan files formal complaint with Security Council over July 27 incident, in which IDF says members of the Lebanese terror group entered Israeli territory

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

A photo provided by Israel's mission to the United Nations on August 17, 2020, shows the alleged route of Hezbollah fighters during a border breach into Israel on July 27, 2020. (Israel's mission to the United Nations)
A photo provided by Israel's mission to the United Nations on August 17, 2020, shows the alleged route of Hezbollah fighters during a border breach into Israel on July 27, 2020. (Israel's mission to the United Nations)

Israel filed a formal complaint with the United Nations Security Council on Monday over an incident along the Lebanese border last month, in which the Israeli military says it foiled an attack by the Hezbollah terror group.

In the complaint, Israel’s new ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said the Hezbollah cell was armed with a .50-caliber sniper rifle, which was recovered at the scene, along with military fatigues.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, on July 27, a cell of three Hezbollah operatives entered the area of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, a contested area along the border under Israeli control. The military monitored the cell as it approached the border, slowly hiking up a rocky, tree-covered hill, and as it crossed several meters into Israeli territory. At that point, troops on the ground, as well as aircraft, opened fire at the suspected operatives, driving them back into Lebanese territory, apparently unharmed.

Erdan included a map that he said shows the route of the cell into Israeli territory, reaching roughly 300 meters (984 feet) from the IDF’s Gladiola outpost on Mount Dov, as well as photographs of the sniper rifle and the fatigues.

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)

Erdan’s office said the evidence proved that the Hezbollah cell entered Israeli territory, despite claims to the contrary by the terror group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The Israeli military says it has footage of the infiltration from at least two angles, but has not yet released the video, in an effort to not embarrass Hezbollah and increase the chances that it will carry out additional attacks.

The failed border attack, along with a drone infiltration a week later, appeared to be Hezbollah’s attempts at revenge for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike on Damascus International Airport the week before, which was widely attributed to Israel.

Following weeks of bracing for a retaliatory attack by Hezbollah, the IDF began scaling back its level of alertness along the border in recent days, as the military assessed the terror group as less likely to carry out a strike in light the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut Port, which killed over 170 people, injured thousands and left over a quarter of a million homeless.

Likud’s Gilad Erdan in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s complaint was filed amid debate within the Security Council over renewing the mandate of the peacekeeping United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL.

“Hezbollah’s terrorist operations, which violate Security Council resolutions, could lead to disaster and wreak havoc on Lebanon. The role of the UNIFIL force is to prevent these operations and to prevent Hezbollah from turning southern Lebanon into its own terrorist base. If UNIFIL is unable to fulfill this mission, then its existence should be in doubt,” Erdan said.

Erdan said Israel and the United States were working to alter UNIFIL’s mandate to give it additional access to the area.

Under UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, no armed groups besides the Lebanese military is permitted to operate south of the country’s Litani River. UNIFIL was tasked with ensuring that the resolution was upheld. Israel maintains that the peacekeeping force’s mandate from the Security Council prevents it from achieving its goal — notably, the fact that under its charter UNIFIL is barred from entering private property without permission, which severely limits its ability to ensure that Hezbollah weapons are not kept inside homes and on privately owned land in the area.

“Israel and the United States are leading a joint diplomatic effort to change the UNIFIL mandate so that it functions as an effective force, including broadening access and oversight capabilities in areas where Hezbollah operates,” Erdan said.

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