Netanyahu promises billions in government aid to battered north

‘This is the opportunity to prove to us that the country has not lost the north,’ chief of Forum of Front-Line Communities tells PM during cabinet meeting

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

The war cabinet meets with heads of Israeli northern municipalities in Korazim, January 23, 2024 (Haim Zach / GPO)
The war cabinet meets with heads of Israeli northern municipalities in Korazim, January 23, 2024 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday promised to authorize NIS 3.5 billion ($930 million) in financial assistance to regional authorities in northern Israel, shortly after Hezbollah launched a barrage of at least 15 rockets, causing slight damage to a sensitive Israel Defense Forces air traffic control base at Mount Meron.

Addressing local mayors during a special cabinet meeting in the village of Korazim, Netanyahu committed to passing a government decision for the development of the north dealing with economic and security issues in the coming days — tasking the directors general of the finance and interior ministries as well as the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare the final outline.

Fleeing the ongoing fighting, an estimated 80,000 people from the north have been displaced, some evacuating due to government orders and others voluntarily, with no way of knowing when they will be able to return home.

Since October 8, one day after the deadly Hamas massacre in southern Israel in which some 1,200 people were slaughtered and more than 250 were taken hostage, the Iran-backed Hezbollah has engaged in cross-border fire on a near-daily basis, launching rockets, drones and missiles at northern Israel.

“I presented the prime minister with a map where the north is colored red. This red is the realm of uncertainty, where the inhabitants of the north are,” Mateh Asher Regional Council head Moshe Davidovitch said, according to the Maariv daily.

“We need answers and you, the prime minister, are the only one who can provide us with answers. This is the opportunity to prove to us that the country has not lost the north,” added Davidovitch, who also serves as the head of the so-called “Forum of Front-Line Communities,” representing the towns closest to the Lebanese and Syrian borders.

Outside of the meeting, protesters carried signs saying “Impeachment now,” calling for the prime minister’s removal.

There is increasing concern that the conflict in the north could spiral out of control.

Last Thursday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant cautioned that Israel must “take into account the possibility of the [security] situation deteriorating in the north.”

He said that Israel is committed to returning the displaced residents to their homes in the north, but “if this scenario does not happen… through diplomatic means, we will reach a situation where we need to create the security conditions that allow their return.”

The likelihood that Israel will be drawn into a war in Lebanon is growing, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said a day earlier during a visit to the north to see troops drilling for a simulated offensive inside Lebanon.

“I don’t know when the war in the north is,” Halevi said. “I can tell you that the likelihood of it happening in the coming months is much higher than it was in the past.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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