Lebanon on Tuesday stressed its right to defend the country “by any means” after an alleged Israeli drone attack hit the Beirut stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council, a government body in charge of defense policy, met to discuss Sunday’s attack on southern Beirut.
“The Council affirms the right of the Lebanese to defend themselves by any means against any aggression,” it said in a statement.
It came after President Michel Aoun, a former army chief, denounced the attack as a “declaration of war” and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed retaliation.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the attack — the first of its kind since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel — posed a threat to regional stability.
Israel used the attack “to change the rules of engagement,” he said.
Israel has not claimed responsibility, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his country was ready to use “all means necessary” to defend itself against Iranian threats “on several fronts.”
Tensions between Hezbollah and Israel have skyrocketed since Saturday night, when two of its members were killed in an Israeli strike in Syria, and drones crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, in an incident also blamed on Israel. On Monday, Lebanon claimed Israeli drones attacked a Palestinian base in the country’s east.
Israel took credit for the Syria raid, but has not commented on the other strikes. The model of UAV used in the Beirut attack has raised considerable questions about the drones’ provenance, with analysts suggesting they could be Iranian.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday called the Beirut drones the first such “hostile action” since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and threatened retaliatory strikes against the Jewish state.
Netanyahu hit back at Nasrallah on Monday, telling him and the head of Iran’s Quds Force to “be careful” with their words and actions.
Netanyahu told a conference in Jerusalem that Nasrallah “knows very well that the State of Israel knows how to defend itself well, and to repay its enemies.”
Israel’s military has been gearing up for a possible reprisal attack from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terror group that is part of the Lebanese government, deploying extra troops to the northern border and limiting some movement along the frontier.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that senior US officials were putting pressure on Beirut to rein in Hezbollah in order to avoid an escalation in violence, and were also attempting to defuse potentially explosive tensions.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the Lebanese government asked for Moscow to help “prevent a further escalation of tensions between Israel and Lebanon.”