Lapid, Gantz warn that Hezbollah drones, threats could lead region to ‘escalation’

During tour of IDF’s Northern Command, premier says Israel seeks Lebanon as ‘stable neighbor,’ but Iran-backed group’s actions are ‘unacceptable’; vows to act against all threats

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) Prime Minister Yair Lapid (center) and Northern Command chief Amir Baram on the Lebanese border, near the coast, on July 19, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) Prime Minister Yair Lapid (center) and Northern Command chief Amir Baram on the Lebanese border, near the coast, on July 19, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a stern warning to the Iran-backed Hezbollah on Tuesday, a day after the terror group allegedly flew a small drone over the border with Israel and a week after its leader threatened war with Israel.

Hezbollah has recently escalated its rhetoric and actions over a border dispute, after Israel moved a natural gas drilling vessel into its Karish field, which Lebanon claims is a disputed area. In its boldest move, Hezbollah sent four drones toward the Karish platform some three weeks ago, all of which were intercepted by the Israel Defense Forces.

“Israel is prepared and ready to act against any threat. We are not heading into a confrontation, but anyone who tries to harm our sovereignty or the citizens of Israel will very quickly find out that he has made a serious mistake,” Lapid said during a tour of the military’s Northern Command and the Lebanese border.

On Monday, Israeli forces downed another drone that Hezbollah apparently flew over the border.

And last week the leader of the terror group, Hassan Nasrallah, warned that drones sent at the Karish gas field were “only the beginning,” and that his group would go to war over the field.

“Lebanon and its leaders are well aware that if they choose the path of fire, they will be severely burnt and hurt,” Gantz said according to remarks provided by his office.

Hezbollah fighters raise their hands as their leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link during a rally in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, April 29, 2022. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

During Tuesday’s tour, Lapid and Gantz received a briefing from security officials, and held an assessment of the situation on Israel’s northern frontier.

“Israel is interested in Lebanon as a stable and prosperous neighbor that is not a platform for Hezbollah’s terror and is not an Iranian tool,” Lapid said. “Hezbollah’s activities endanger Lebanon, its citizens and their well-being.”

“We have no interest in escalation. But Hezbollah’s aggression is unacceptable and could lead the entire region to an unnecessary escalation, especially when Lebanon has a real opportunity to develop its energy resources,” he said.

“Israel is acting and will continue to act against all Iranian terror branches in the region and in general. Iran is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world. We will act on our own, and in cooperation with other countries in the region, to prevent Iran from undermining regional stability,” Lapid added.

Gantz said Israel was “ready to do a lot so that its neighbors will prosper, and is ready to act all the time to protect its citizens.”

“If they choose the path of stability, they will help the citizens of Lebanon,” he added.

A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen on a Navy ship, guarding the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

On July 2, the Israel Defense Forces intercepted three Hezbollah drones heading for the Karish gas field. Hezbollah confirmed it launched the drones after previously threatening the field, which sits in a maritime area that both Lebanon and Israel claim as their own. In another incident on June 29, a drone launched by the terror group was downed over Lebanon’s waters.

Those drones were “products of Iran,” according to Gantz.

A drone which the Israeli military says was launched by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, is seen shortly before being intercpted by an Israeli fighter jet over the Mediterranean Sea, July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Some Lebanese leaders criticized the terror group for launching the drones, saying it was an unnecessarily risky action.

According to a Monday report, a Lebanese minister affiliated with the Hezbollah terror group demanded that Israel give Lebanon control over a long-shuttered rail tunnel that goes from Israel’s northern border town of Rosh Hanikra and stretches hundreds of meters into Lebanon.

Ali Hamieh’s comments were seen as an effort to torpedo talks between Israel and Lebanon aimed at resolving their disputed maritime border and the question of who has rights to lucrative offshore gas fields.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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