Netanyahu warns Iran, Hezbollah of ‘red lines’ ahead of war games on Lebanon border

Defense Minister Gallant vows to ‘cut off’ weapon supply lines to Lebanese terror group via Syria; military to launch artillery shells toward contested area Wednesday

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (2nd right) during a visit to the military's Northern Command in Safed, January 10, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (2nd right) during a visit to the military's Northern Command in Safed, January 10, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah of Israel’s “red lines” on the buildup of militant forces or weapons to its north, as the Israel Defense Forces prepared to hold an artillery drill on a contested hill on the border with Lebanon and Syria.

Netanyahu toured the military’s Northern Command headquarters in the city of Safed along with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant Tuesday, striking a defiant tone despite the relatively quiet period on the border.

“The main enemy we are facing is the terror regime in Iran and its satellites in Syria and Lebanon,” Netanyahu said in remarks provided by his office.

“We are determined to fight Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear arsenal. We are determined to fight any attempt by Iran to entrench itself on our northern military frontier in Syria. We are determined to fight all attempts by Hezbollah to show aggression against us from Lebanon,” Netanyahu said.

The premier, back in power after a year in the opposition, threatened that Israel would jog the memories of enemies as to what its policies are. Under the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government, Israel largely stuck to the strategy of carrying out airstrikes in Syria to thwart Iranian attempts to gain a foothold in the country.

“Those who need to be given a reminder of our red lines in this matter will receive it,” he added.

Gallant also vowed to prevent Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and to “cut off the channels used to transfer Iranian weapons to Lebanon and Hezbollah.”

“The quiet in the north is an important goal. Therefore, along with maintaining calm, we will act powerfully against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers,” he added.

The IDF has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups in Syria. The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Netanyahu, Gallant, and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi were given a wide-ranging security briefing by military officials on the IDF’s operations, intelligence, and challenges on the northern frontier, including in Syria and Lebanon.

File: A fire is seen after an alleged airstrike near the Syrian city of Masyaf, on August 25, 2022. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

On Wednesday, the army will conduct a military drill in the Galilee Panhandle, including artillery fire toward the Mount Dov area on the border with Lebanon.

Mount Dov, also known as the Sheba Farms, is a contested area claimed by Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.

The military said the exercise would last between 9 and 11 a.m. Explosions are expected to be heard in nearby towns, it added.

The drill was planned in advance, indicating that it did not stem from a new assessment, the army said.

File: Israeli soldiers hold an artillery drill in the Golan Heights, on March 28, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war and the border area is the site of sporadic incidents.

Hezbollah has long represented the most significant military threat on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in the country.

The Israel Defense Forces has estimated that a potential military campaign as part of a several-day flare-up with Hezbollah would likely wind up killing thousands of people in Lebanon, both civilians and Hezbollah fighters.

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