Netanyahu meets security chiefs amid ongoing Hezbollah provocations on border

PM accepts recommendations of defense officials, office says without elaborating; Lebanese citizens approach border waving Hezbollah flags, in latest in string of incidents

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

UN peacekeepers seen on the border between Israel and Lebanon in the northern village of Ghajar, July 30, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
UN peacekeepers seen on the border between Israel and Lebanon in the northern village of Ghajar, July 30, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security assessment Sunday with Israel’s top defense brass to discuss courses of action proposed by the military, his office said, as tensions with Hezbollah rise on Israel’s border with Lebanon.

The meeting included Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the heads of the military, Mossad and Shin Bet, along with numerous other top security officials.

“The prime minister accepted the recommendations and courses of action proposed by the IDF and the defense establishment,” Prime Minister’s Office said, without elaborating on what was discussed at the meeting.

Channel 12 news reported that media outlets reported that defense officials presented Netanyahu with an intelligence overview and situation assessments. The network said Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is likely to seek provocations along the border, sensing that Israel, facing an ongoing internal crisis, will avoid a severe response.

The officials reportedly told the premier that “a mistaken assessment by Nasrallah could set off a conflict along the entire front.”

Channel 12 also reported, without citing a source, that Hezbollah had received a green light from Iran to wage attritional actions against Israel.

The IDF has been bolstering forces in the north in response to the tensions, which have seen Hezbollah erect tents north of the border fence but within Israeli territory.

In the latest incident on the northern front, a number of Lebanese citizens waved Hezbollah flags on Israel’s border, footage showed Sunday.

In videos and pictures shared by a Hezbollah-affiliated reporter, several young Lebanese men crossed a barrier reportedly set by a United Nations peacekeeping force near the contested village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israel-Lebanon border.

The suspects did not cross Israel’s border fence or enter sovereign Israeli territory.

According to Ali Shoeib, the Hezbollah-linked correspondent, the UN fence had prevented Lebanese residents from entering a road near Ghajar since 2006, when Israel gained control of the entire village following a month-long war with Hezbollah.

At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu responded to threats made by Nasrallah in an address to mark the Shiite festival Ashura on Saturday, in which he warned that the group would respond to any “stupid act” by Israel.

“With regards to the threats from Nasrallah’s bunker — we are not impressed by them. On a day of decision, he will find us standing together shoulder to shoulder. Nasrallah also knows that he and Lebanon shouldn’t test us,” Netanyahu said.

Nasrallah stated Saturday that “Israel is still occupying parts of Lebanese lands and brazenly talks about provocations.

“I say to the Zionists: ‘Beware of any stupid step or decisions of one kind or another, the resistance does not take its responsibility for responding and liberating lands lightly. We are ready for any option and we will not remain silent in the face of any stupid act,'” Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link during activities marking the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, July 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Israel sought since early June to remove the two tents placed by Hezbollah in the contested Mount Dov region, also known as the Shebaa Farms. One tent was removed after Israel reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah threatening an armed confrontation if it did not dismantle it.

However, earlier this month, Nasrallah said the other tent would remain, and threatened to attack Israel if it tries to remove it.

In addition, last week, IDF troops filmed camouflaged Hezbollah members walking along the border near the northern Israeli town of Dovev. The troops did not engage the terror group’s patrol. In other incidents in recent months, Lebanese soldiers have entered Israeli territory — without crossing the border fence — and an anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon at Israel, causing no damage or injury. In April, dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israel, injuring three and damaging buildings. Though Israel blamed the rocket fire on the Palestinian terror group Hamas, it was seen as having been carried out with the tacit approval of Hezbollah.

Israel and Lebanon do not have a formal border due to territorial disputes; however, they primarily abide by the United Nations-recognized Blue Line between the two countries. The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is in some areas several meters from the Israeli fence, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.

Gallant, the defense minister, recently approved a number of possible courses of action for IDF Northern Command Chief Major General Ori Gordin for removing the second tent, including a military response if the situation deteriorates into open conflict, the Walla news site reported Saturday. Gallant has also ordered increased readiness for different scenarios along the length of the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a vote on the so-called reasonableness bill at the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior security source told Walla that “Nasrallah has been considering taking risks at the border for some time because he incorrectly estimates the degree of operational preparedness of the IDF for all kinds of scenarios.”

The source said that the sustained nationwide protests against the judicial overhaul have become part of Hezbollah’s general assessment of the situation with Israel and it has therefore coordinated recently with Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules the Gaza Strip.

“That’s why we are conducting joint surveillance and situation assessments for the IDF, Shin Bet, and Mossad,” the source said, and warned it would be “a mistake” for the two terror groups to try to initiate any action.

According to the report, Gordin recently carried out an exercise to see how quickly the Shimshon Battalion can be scrambled from the northern West Bank to counter a possible penetration by Hezbollah forces into Israeli territory that might include the seizing of Israeli border communities or military positions or the kidnapping of soldiers guarding the frontier. The Shimshon infantry soldiers would act as a first response until the deployment of other land forces and air power.

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