President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday warned Lebanon and Hezbollah against launching an attack on Israel at the behest of Iran.
“We warn Hezbollah not to impose Iran’s agenda on Lebanon, and we warn Lebanon not to be a base for attacks on Israel,” Rivlin said during a memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for Israeli soldiers killed in the First Lebanon War.
“We are not eager to fight. But the IDF is alert and ready to respond to any threat and to any scenario,” he added.
Rivlin’s warning came as he remarked on Operation Northern Shield, an Israel Defense Forces operation to locate and destroy Hezbollah tunnels dug under the border that the army believes were intended to be used to ferry the terror group’s fighters into Israel as the opening salvo in a future war.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which Israel fought in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, is part of the Lebanese government. Some Israeli politicians have called for the IDF to treat Lebanon and Hezbollah as a single entity in any future conflict, with a top general warning earlier this month that the country would “pay a heavy price” for allowing the terror group to take root there.
The Israeli military considers Hezbollah to be one of its most significant foes, with a rocket arsenal larger than many countries’ and ample combat experience from its years fighting in the Syrian civil war on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad.
In his comments, Rivlin said Israelis “have never had anything against the Lebanese people” and that the First Lebanon War, which was launched in 1982 to stop Palestinian Liberation Organization attacks from southern Lebanon, “was not a war of choice.”
“Then, as now, it was the terrorist organizations that exploited the weakness of Lebanon, the Lebanese state, to attack the State of Israel and its citizens,” he said.
The president also vowed Israel would continue working to recover the missing remains of Israeli troops killed in the war, after the body of Brooklyn-born tank commander Zachary Baumel was returned to Israel earlier this year after 37 years.
“The State of Israel kept its promise to our soldiers, our sons and daughters, to bring home those who do not return from the battle… We remain committed to do everything possible to find every shred of information about Zachary’s comrades, Yehuda Katz and [Zvi] Feldman, and bring them home for burial in Israel,” Rivlin said.
Feldman was in the same tank as Baumel when they went missing during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, while Katz was in another tank that was hit some two kilometers away in the same battle.