Smotrich to PM: Give the order to destroy Hezbollah

Netanyahu warns: We’re ready with ‘extremely powerful’ response to Hezbollah attacks

Visiting north, PM says Israel won’t ‘sit on its hands’; war cabinet split on timing of operation; Herzog urges world leaders to act before events spiral out of control

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second right) visits Kiryat Shmona on the border with Lebanon, June 5, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second right) visits Kiryat Shmona on the border with Lebanon, June 5, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that Israel was prepared with an “extremely powerful” response to attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon, which have escalated significantly in recent days.

“Anyone who thinks that they can harm us and that we will sit on our hands is sorely mistaken,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, which has been largely evacuated since the Lebanon-based terror group began attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis on October 8.

Hours later, at least 11 Israelis were wounded, one critically, in a Hezbollah-claimed attack with explosive-laden drones on the Druze-majority town of Hurfeish, located several kilometers from the Lebanon border.

Later, speaking at an event to commemorate Jerusalem Day, Netanyahu again vowed that Israel would restore calm to the north, whatever it takes.

“Iran is trying to choke us and encircle us and we are fighting back directly and with its proxies, Netanyahu said. “We can’t accept the continuation of the situation in the north, it won’t continue. We will return the resident to their homes and bring back security.

Speaking at the same event, President Isaac Herzog warned the international community that Iran and Hezbollah need to be restrained before events “spiral out of control.”

“I call from here to the international community and its leaders and stress — it is impossible to remain indifferent to this terrorism, from Lebanon and in general. Israel has been attacked daily, for many months, by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, in flagrant violation of all international agreements and resolutions,” Herzog said.

President Isaac Herzog speaks during the Jerusalem Day official ceremony at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2024. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“The world needs to wake up and realize that Israel has no choice but to protect its citizens and you shouldn’t be surprised when it does so with greater and greater strength and resolve, and don’t come to us with complaints when the situation gets out of control,” Herzog warned. “This is not the time to stand by and let the region escalate. This evil terrorist aggression needs to be curbed and stopped,”

Their comments came after Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said on Tuesday that Israel was close to making a decision on how to address Hezbollah’s daily attacks, which the terror group says are to support Palestinians in Gaza amid Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas.

Also Wednesday, Channel 12 news reported that members and observers at the war cabinet who met Tuesday failed to reach an agreement on how to deal with the situation.

According to the report, National Unity ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot were pushing to reach a hostage exchange and ceasefire deal with Hamas in Gaza in order to shift the focus to the north and Hezbollah.

However, Netanyahu wanted to press on with the offensive in Gaza until Israel achieves its war goals, which includes destroying Hamas, and only then to move to resolve the situation with Lebanon.

According to the report, the military believes there is an opportunity now to take on Hezbollah, but acknowledges that it would be better to end the fighting in Gaza first.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a drone attack in the Druze village of Hurfeish, northern Israel, June 5, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Channel 12 also played a recording of Gantz speaking Tuesday to community leaders in northern Israel, telling them that the situation is likely to get far worse before it gets better.

“What you’re going through is likely going to get a lot worse,” Gantz said, telling them to “brace for war.”

The prime minister visited northern Israel on Wednesday hours after firefighters confirmed that they had gained control of a series of major blazes in the area sparked by Hezbollah rocket and drone attacks, following some 48 hours of intense firefighting efforts.

“The ground burned yesterday and I am happy you put it out,” Netanyahu told firefighters, “but the ground also burned in Lebanon.”

During the visit, he also met with troops from the IDF’s 769th “Hiram” Regional Brigade to discuss operations against Hezbollah.

The remains of a large fire caused by rockets fired from Lebanon burns near a home in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

The large blazes prompted a spike in calls for military action by some northern residents and members of the coalition and increased concerns that Israel may soon find itself engaged in ground operations on two fronts.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is a member of the wider security cabinet, but not the war cabinet, urged Netanyahu Wednesday to give the order to go to war in the north and “destroy” Hezbollah.

“Prime Minister, give the order, go to war with Hezbollah, destroy [them,]” he said in a speech at the Western Wall at the end of the ultranationalist Jerusalem Day Flag March.

“Take strength from the multitudes gathered here and give the order. Go to war with Hezbollah, subdue, destroy, move the security zone from the Galilee into southern Lebanon,” he urged.

Around 60,000 residents of towns and villages along Israel’s northern border have been displaced from their homes since October due to the near-daily cross-border rocket and anti-tank missile attacks by Hezbollah and other terrorists in southern Lebanon.

Earlier on Wednesday, the government raised the number of reservists the IDF is authorized to call up if needed from 300,000 to 350,000, though military sources told The Times of Israel that the move was related to expanded operations in the Gaza Strip, rather than the northern front.

The IDF said that the cap was increased due to ongoing operations in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, which has taken more additional personnel than initially planned.

Amid the war in Gaza, the IDF called up a total of 287,000 reservists, although many of them have already been released from duty for now. It marked the largest-ever call-up of reservists in Israel’s history.

The cap was initially set at 300,000, before being raised to 360,000 in the early weeks of the war. It was then dropped back to 300,000, and has now been expanded to 350,000.

Israeli artillery unit firing shells near the Israeli border with Lebanon, northern Israel, January 15, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IDF chief told military officials and Fire Commissioner Eyal Caspi on Tuesday that Israel was approaching the point where a decision will have to be made, and the IDF was prepared for it.

“We have been attacking for eight months, and Hezbollah is paying a very, very high price. It has increased its strengths in recent days and we are prepared after a very good process of training… to move to an attack in the north,” he said at an IDF base in Kiryat Shmona.

“[We have] strong defense, readiness to attack, [and] we are approaching a decision point,” he added.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (right) meets with Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Eyal Caspi at the Gibor Camp in Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The skirmishes on the northern border since October 8 have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 329 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has expressed openness to a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but has also threatened to go to war against Hezbollah to restore security to the north of Israel if needed.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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