Netanyahu: Hezbollah would be making 'mistake of its life'

IDF hits 4 more Hezbollah squads as 14 more communities evacuated on Lebanon border

Strikes mark 9th targeting of terror cells carrying out new missile attacks on Sunday; military spokesman says Iran-backed terror group risks ‘dragging Lebanon into a war’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli military shows the border fence separating northern Israel from southern Lebanon on October 21, 2023. (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)
A picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli military shows the border fence separating northern Israel from southern Lebanon on October 21, 2023. (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out strikes against four more Hezbollah squads in southern Lebanon before they could carry out attacks on Sunday and shortly after midnight on Monday.

The IDF said one of the cells, in the Mount Dov area, planned to launch rockets. Another cell, near the northern town of Mattat, planned to launch an anti-tank guided missile. The third cell was struck by an IDF drone along the border, destroying armaments possessed by the operatives. The fourth missile squad was hit near the northern community of Shlomi, according to the IDF.

The strike near Shlomi marked the ninth Hezbollah cell that the IDF hit in under 24 hours.

Earlier, the IDF and Defense Ministry announced that they were planning to evacuate another 14 communities close to the Lebanese border, amid the repeated rocket and missile attacks by Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions over the last two weeks.

The ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) said the residents would be taken to state-funded guesthouses.

Last week, NEMA began to evacuate 28 communities that are within two kilometers (1.25 miles) of the border, as well as the city of Kiryat Shmona.

According to the IDF and Defense Ministry, the 14 communities being added to the list are: Snir, Dan, Beit Hillel, She’ar Yashuv, Hagoshrim, Liman, Matzuva, Eylon, Goren, Gornot HaGalil, Even Menachem, Sasa, Tziv’on and Ramot Naftali.

Many residents in northern border towns have already evacuated southward amid the escalating attacks from Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Sunday warned that Hezbollah risks making “the mistake of its life,” if it decides to enter the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

“If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will long for the Second Lebanon War,” Netanyahu told commando forces in northern Israel. “It will be making the mistake of its life. We will hit it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the meaning for it and the Lebanese state will be devastating.”

A spokesman for the IDF said Sunday that the escalating attacks by Hezbollah risk “dragging Lebanon into a war.”

Kiryat Shmona residents are evacuated from the city, October 20, 2023 (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

“Hezbollah… is dragging Lebanon into a war that it will gain nothing from, but stands to lose a lot,” warned Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan Conricus.

“Hezbollah is playing a very, very dangerous game. They’re escalating the situation. We see more and more attacks every day,” he said.

“Is the Lebanese state really willing to jeopardize what is left of Lebanese prosperity and Lebanese sovereignty for the sake of terrorists in Gaza?” he asked. “That’s a question that the Lebanese authorities need to ask and answer themselves.”

The past two weeks have seen repeated clashes between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah terror group and allied Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon, amid fears a new front could be opened as Israel continues its war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday morning, the IDF said it struck a terror cell in southern Lebanon that was planning to carry out an anti-tank guided missile attack against the northern community of Avivim.

The IDF published a video of the strike.

In a separate incident, the IDF one of its tanks shelled a terror cell that launched a missile from Lebanon at the Mount Dov area. The military said there were no casualties among IDF troops, and no damage was caused by the missile.

In another strike, the IDF said it carried out a drone strike against another cell in southern Lebanon, preparing to carry out a missile attack against the northern community of Zar’it.

Separately, the IDF said a drone approaching Israeli airspace from Lebanon was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

Later, in another strike, the IDF said fighter jets struck a Hezbollah position in southern Lebanon after the military identified preparations by terror operatives to launch a missile at the northern community of Malkia.

On Sunday night, in yet another strike, the IDF says it hit another missile squad in southern Lebanon, allegedly preparing an attack against the Mount Dov area.

Hezbollah also launched an anti-tank guided missile attack on IDF surveillance equipment at a military post near the northern communities of Manara and Margaliot. Three more missiles were launched at other areas along the northern border, causing no injuries or damage, the IDF said

The IDF said it was responding with artillery shelling at the sources of the missile fire.

Also Sunday, a number of mortars were launched from Lebanon at the northern community of Yiftah. The IDF said the projectiles landed in open areas, causing no damage or injuries.

Later Sunday, the IDF said that in response to the missile attacks it had struck a Hezbollah position in southern Lebanon.

In the predawn hours of Sunday, the IDF said it struck a Hezbollah position from which an anti-aircraft missile was launched at an Israeli drone. The IDF said the missile was intercepted by air defenses, and the military drone was not damaged.

On Saturday, an Israeli soldier was seriously wounded and two others were lightly hurt in a Hezbollah missile attack from Lebanon near the northern community of Bar’am. In a separate attack by Hezbollah, two foreign workers from Thailand were wounded by shrapnel in the area of Margaliot, another community in northern Israel.

Israel responded with a drone strike against the anti-tank guided missile squad in southern Lebanon that launched the missile at Margaliot. The IDF said it also carried out drone strikes against two other terror squads in southern Lebanon preparing anti-tank guided missile attacks.

The military also said fighter jets struck a series of Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon in response to the missile attacks claimed by Hezbollah earlier Saturday.

In an earlier drone strike Saturday, the IDF said it hit a cell launching rockets from Lebanon at the Mount Dov area on the border.

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hezbollah has fired dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, rockets, and mortars at Israeli military positions and Israeli towns since the October 7 Hamas onslaught, while also sending gunmen — some affiliated with Palestinian terror groups — to infiltrate into northern Israel. Several drones have also been intercepted over northern Israel.

The tit-for-tat attacks have so far remained limited in scope, amid threats from Israel that Lebanon could suffer if Hezbollah steps up its attacks.

At least six Israeli soldiers, 29 Hezbollah terrorists and six Palestinian terrorists have been killed in the exchanges. One Israeli civilian was killed in a Hezbollah attack, and several Lebanese civilians and a journalist were also reported killed by Israeli shelling.

The attacks from Lebanon have come as Israel is waging war in Gaza against Hamas after the terror group’s murderous assault on the country on October 7, in which it killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and more than 200 were kidnapped and taken to the Strip.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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