Touring border, Netanyahu warns Hezbollah and Iran against ‘testing Israel’

Touring border, Netanyahu warns Hezbollah and Iran against ‘testing Israel’

On visit to the north amid high tensions, PM says Monday skirmish was result of Iranian attempts to gain foothold in region

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a security consultation in northern Israel on July 28, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a security consultation in northern Israel on July 28, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Touring the northern border area on Tuesday, a day after the IDF said it thwarted a Hezbollah attack there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and its Iranian patron against testing Israel.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, on Monday afternoon a group of Hezbollah operatives infiltrated a short distance into the Israeli-controlled Mount Dov region, also known as Shebaa Farms, before IDF troops opened fire at them — apparently not hitting them, but forcing them back across the border.

The incident appeared to be an attempt by the Iran-backed Hezbollah to exact revenge for the killing of one of its members in Syria last week in an airstrike it attributed to Israel.

The Israeli military remained on high alert Tuesday along the northern border amid fears that Hezbollah would try to carry out another attack.

Visiting an IDF command post near the northern border, Netanyahu met Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and other top commanders and received a security briefing, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a security assessment and briefing with IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, GOC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman, GOC Operations Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva and other senior officials, at IDF Northern Command headquarters, July 28, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“All that is happening now is the result of an attempt to establish a military foothold in our area by Iran and its satellites in Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.

He accused Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of the Lebanese state.

“I don’t suggest anyone test the IDF or Israel. We are determined to defend ourselves,” he added.

Netanyahu indicated that Israel would continue its bombing campaign in Syria meant to thwart Iran and said the country was “prepared for any scenario.”

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Shebaa Farms sector after clashes in the border area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Following the alleged failed assault, Hezbollah officially denied that an attack had taken place, but did not explicitly dispute that its members had crossed into the Israeli-controlled enclave.

Israeli defense officials scoffed at the terror group’s denial, saying the infiltration attempt had been 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.

The terror group said a reprisal for its fallen operative in Syria was still to come.

However, Lebanese news outlets affiliated with or directly controlled by the terror group appeared to indicate that Hezbollah considered the fact that it forced the IDF into a state of high alert to be sufficient retaliation for the time being.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun condemned the cross-border skirmish on Tuesday, calling it a “threat to stability,” according to Lebanon’s official National News Agency mouthpiece.

He noted that the incident came just as the UN is set to renew the mandate of UNIFIL peacekeepers on the border.

Aoun is backed by Hezbollah’s political bloc.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab accused Israel of carrying out a “dangerous military escalation” and thereby violating United Nations Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“I fear that the situation will deteriorate in light of the severe tension on our borders with occupied Palestine,” Diab wrote in a statement, calling for caution.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab during a news conference after his government was announced, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, January 21, 2020. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The Lebanese prime minister, who is also supported by Hezbollah, also accused Israel of seeking to give the international peacekeepers in Lebanon, known by the acronym UNIFIL, additional powers in the country and change the “rules of engagement.”

Lebanese media reported intensive Israeli drone flights over southern Lebanon throughout Tuesday morning. The military also 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.

Following the incident, Israel reportedly conveyed messages to Lebanon, through third parties, that it did not want Monday’s border altercation to descend into a war with the country’s Hezbollah terror group.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press briefing, July 27, 2020 (Gobi Gideon/GPO)

In a joint press conference Monday, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued clear warnings to Hezbollah and to the countries of Lebanon and Syria that Israel would respond harshly to any attacks.

In the past, Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

On Friday, the IDF began clearing out unnecessary personnel from the frontier and barring military vehicles from traveling on roads that were exposed to anti-tank guided missile fire from Lebanon. No such restrictions were placed on civilians at the time, who were encouraged to go about their lives as normal despite the heightened tensions.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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