Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued warnings against Hezbollah and its backers in Iran after the terror group’s failed attempt to infiltrate Israel and attack IDF soldiers on the northern border earlier Monday.
The Israeli military said no IDF soldiers were injured during the border incident, which saw Israeli forces open fire at a number of fighters from the terror group that entered Israeli territory, according to the army. Hezbollah denied the clash took place, calling it “absolutely false.”
Israeli forces remained on high alert along the northern border late Monday as the terror group threatened to attack the Jewish state at an unspecified future date.
In a joint press statement from the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would continued to act to prevent Iran from establishing a military foothold in Lebanon and Syria.
By directing Monday’s attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was trying to draw Lebanon and Iran into a clash with Israel, Netanyahu said.
“We view the attempt to infiltrate our territory with great severity. Hezbollah and Lebanon bear full responsibility for this incident and for any attack that comes out of Lebanese territory against Israel,” the premier added, making clear that Israel holds Lebanon accountable for the actions of the terror group based on its soil.
“Hezbollah needs to know that it is playing with fire,” Netanyahu said.
“Nasrallah has already made a big mistake in testing Israel’s determination to defend itself, and the Lebanese state has paid a heavy price for this. I suggest he does not repeat this mistake,” he added, in an apparent reference to the blow dealt by Israel during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Speaking after Netanyahu, Gantz said, “Israel is more determined than ever to prevent any harm to its sovereignty, its soldiers, and certainly to its citizens.”
“Lebanon and Syria are sovereign states and will bear the painful responsibility for any terrorist act that takes place on their territory,” he added. “Anyone who dares to test the power of the IDF will endanger himself and the country from which he operates.”
He asserted that Israeli security forces would continue operating “wherever necessary — however near or far.”
The joint statements came hours after the IDF announced it had foiled a Hezbollah attack in the Mount Dov area.
No Israeli soldiers were hurt, and the IDF denied Lebanese media reports that a Kornet anti-tank guided missile was fired at an Israeli tank on Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, an area that Israel, Lebanon, and Syria each claim as its own.
Hezbollah later denied carrying out any attack or exchanging fire with Israeli forces, adding that it would respond at a future date to the killing of one of its fighters in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.
In a statement read aloud on its al-Manar television network, Hezbollah said: “All that the enemy claims in the media about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanese territory into occupied Palestine, as well as talk of the fall of martyrs and wounded Hezbollah members in bombing operations that took place in the vicinity of the occupation sites in the Shebaa Farms — is absolutely false.”
Appearing to indicate the matter is not over, the Lebanese terror group said its response to the death of its fighter — Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad — in an alleged Israeli raid in Syria “is definitely coming. The Zionists have only to wait for their crimes to be punished.”
Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt was filmed by military security cameras and that the operatives who took part in it were armed. The Israel Defense Forces said it was considering releasing the footage from the incident.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said at least some members of the Hezbollah cell fled back to Lebanon, but added: “We don’t know their conditions for sure at this point.”
The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news outlet reports that no Hezbollah fighters were killed during the failed attack.
Though a tense calm returned to both sides of the border following the incident and all security restrictions on Israeli civilians were quickly lifted, Zilberman said the military considered the event to be ongoing, with the possibility of additional attacks. The military maintained its own roadblocks in the area, preventing IDF vehicles from traveling on certain highways along the border that were considered vulnerable to attack from Lebanon.
Despite the Hezbollah official statement, the Reuters news agency cited a member of the terror group who said that the attempted Hezbollah assault was in retaliation for the death of its fighter in Syria.
The Israeli military initially ordered residents of communities near Mount Dov and along the Israeli-Lebanese border to remain inside their home, closed all roads in the area, and ordered all farmers, hikers and tourists to immediately leave all open areas and farm lands. After an hour, the IDF removed these restrictions, permitting civilians in northern Israel to move about the area freely.
Following Hezbollah’s claim last Tuesday that Israel had killed its fighter the day before, the IDF went into high alert on the northern border, deploying infantry reinforcements on the ground, as well as additional Iron Dome missile defense batteries.
The skies above northern Israel were filled on Sunday and Monday with the sound of fighter jets, drones and helicopters, apparently collecting intelligence and preparing to retaliate for any attack.
— Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.