As security cabinet meets on Lebanon barrage, PM says Israel united, ‘enemy will pay’

Government members call for severe military reaction to attack the army has blamed on Hamas; opposition offers full backing to retaliation while needling coalition for policies

Israel's security cabinet meets after rocket barrages from Lebanon, April 6, 2023. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is seated opposite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Israel's security cabinet meets after rocket barrages from Lebanon, April 6, 2023. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is seated opposite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Israel’s high-level security cabinet convened Thursday night, hours after a barrage of 34 rockets was fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel, in the largest such attack in some 17 years.

In the evening several mortar shells impacted near the northern town of Metula, not causing any injuries or damage.

The Israel Defense Forces blamed the afternoon attack on the Hamas terror group, which has a presence in southern Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps. Israel was expected to respond strongly to the assault while attempting to avoid an uncontrollable escalation.

While the cabinet consultations continued, the Israel Air Force began targeting Hamas positions in Gaza, and Hamas launched rocket fire at southern Israel.

At the start of the security cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that ongoing internal debates in Israeli society would not prevent the country from responding firmly and significantly to escalating violence — a reference to the national crisis over his government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“We are all, without exception, united on this,” he said, adding that the country “will hit back at our enemies, and they will pay the price for every act of aggression.

“Our enemies will learn again that during times that we are tested, Israeli citizens stand together united.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the nation from a meeting of the security cabinet, hours after rocket fire from Lebanon, April 6, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot)

Anticipating potential further attacks, a number of cities announced they were opening public bomb shelters, including Nahariya and Kiryat Shmona in the north, Ashkelon in the south and Rishon Lezion and Ness Ziona in the center The IDF has not issued instructions to open shelters at this time.

Israel’s security cabinet, which would usually convene regularly during a time of increased regional tensions, has not met in some two months, with political commentators assessing that Netanyahu has avoided doing so due to his lack of trust in the judgment of far-right members of his cabinet like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Coalition MKs seek tough response, opposition voices support

Ahead of the cabinet meeting, ministers and lawmakers from the coalition called for a tough Israeli response, while the opposition offered its support for retaliatory action but also took the opportunity to attack the government for policies they said had led to the current state.

Israeli security chiefs meet on April 6, 2023. From left: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, mossad chief David Barnea and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)

Smotrich said Israel’s enemies would “regret” attacking the country.

“The State of Israel will not tolerate attacks against its citizens, and our enemies will regret it,” he said in a statement. “A severe blow to terrorism is required, along with the return of deterrence to the State of Israel. At these moments, we leave all disputes, accusations, and political considerations and unite against our enemies.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen warned Israel’s foes “not to test us” while urging the international community “to issue a clear statement against those responsible for the attacks on Israel.”

Cohen added: “We will employ all means necessary to defend our country and people.”

The crater from an intercepted rocket fired from Lebanon that landed in Shlomi, northern Israel Thursday, April 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Likud’s Yuli Edelstein, head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, blamed Iran “which is responsible for Hezbollah. Hezbollah is responsible for happenings in Lebanon.” He said Israel “mustn’t chase tails but strike at the head of the serpent.” With Israel’s enemies testing it, Jerusalem must react with “a powerful and determined response,” he added.

Energy Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 12 Israel would “react to the attacks severely.”

Likud MK Danny Danon, Israel’s former envoy to the UN, said in a tweet that “Israel must respond immediately, strongly and disproportionately.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid accused the current government of damaging Israel’s deterrence while saying he would give full backing for a military response.

“The extreme and irresponsible behavior of the current government led to a serious damage to deterrence,” the Yesh Atid leader said.

“Our enemies misjudge our inner strength. When it comes to security, there is no opposition or coalition in the State of Israel. We will stand united against any enemy. The opposition will give the government full backing for a harsh response by the IDF and the security forces,” Lapid said.

A fire burns at a warehouse in northern Israel following a rocket attack from Lebanon, April 6, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Services)

“Israel should respond at a time and place that is right for us. We should not play into the hands of those who are trying to heat up the region during the month of Ramadan. Instead of acting according to our enemies’ schedule, we must respond forcefully and mercilessly according to the security forces’ assessment of the evolving situation.”

National Unity leader Benny Gantz, the former defense minister, said in a statement that the opposition will give its full support to the government.

“We are not only the strongest in the region, but also the most ready,” Gantz said, noting that as defense minister he prepared the IDF for a scenario involving “fighting on multiple fronts for two years.”

“In the last few months, the government has damaged our resilience, undermined the chain of command, and taken us into a deep internal rift, but in times of trouble, we know how to unite,” Gantz said.

National Unity party head Benny Gantz gives a statement on the security situation, April 6, 2023. (Video screenshot)

“If we have to end 17 years of quiet on the northern border, we’ll do so — and demand a heavy price.” Likewise, he said, “if we have to attack forcefully in Gaza” or wherever is needed to go to fight terror.

“We’ll all stand together for the good of the state and we will win.”

Labor party chief Merav Michaeli of the opposition tweeted: “We warned time and again that Netanyahu is leading to a security danger and here we have it — chaos, rockets, thousands of Israelis running to shelters in the north and south, after a difficult day in Jerusalem too. A security escalation we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak, a former head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that “we must bring back deterrence. I hope [the security cabinet] make the right decision,” while adding that “unfortunately, I don’t really trust this cabinet.”

The north under attack

Dozens of rockets were fired from southern Lebanon on Thursday afternoon with several intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system over northern Israel, officials and the military said. At least three people were injured.

Israeli officials said 34 rockets had been fired toward the border with five landing inside Israel, and the rest downed by Iron Dome.

Such a massive barrage would make this the largest number of rockets fired from Lebanon since the 2006 war, during which thousands of rockets were launched at Israel. In August 2021, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets at northern Israel.

File: Lebanese wave Hezbollah and Palestinian flags, as they stand in front of the Israeli town of Metula, background, on the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and a Hezbollah source told the Al-Arabiya network that it was not behind the rocket fire, apparently blaming Palestinian groups based in the area. However, it was unlikely they would do so without at least the tacit approval of the Iran-backed terror group that controls southern Lebanon.

Two people were lightly hurt by shrapnel in the rocket attacks.

The salvo also came just hours after Hezbollah said it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after clashes at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

It also came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Beirut for what Hamas sources called a “private visit.” Media reports said he was meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh (center) photographed in Beirut on April 5, 2023. (Muntasser Abdallah)

Haniyeh said Thursday in Beirut that Palestinians “will not sit with their arms crossed” in the face of Israeli “aggression” against Al-Aqsa.

Haniyeh met on Thursday the heads of other Palestinian organizations as Israel threatened a military response to the rocket fire. In his statement, Haniyeh called on “all Palestinian organizations to unify their ranks and intensify their resistance against the Zionist occupation.”

The rocket barrage came as tensions ran high after days of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, clashes at Al-Aqsa, as well as a suspected Iranian drone launched from Syria earlier in the week.

Following those incidents, Hezbollah appeared to suggest it could also enter the fray.

“Hezbollah forcefully denounces the assault carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and its attacks on the faithful,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

Israeli security forces remove Palestinian Muslim worshipers sitting on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“Hezbollah proclaims its full solidarity with the Palestinian people and the resistance groups, and pledges that it will stand with them in all measures they take to protect worshipers and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to deter the enemy from continuing its attacks,” the group said.

Global concern has mounted after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Islam’s third-holiest site Tuesday night, sparking an exchange of rockets and air strikes with terrorists in Gaza, with fears of further escalation.

The fighting raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. Hezbollah’s warning raised the specter of an even wider conflict.

Hezbollah has close ties with Hamas, which rules Gaza, and with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which is also based in the coastal enclave.

In the summer of 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in Lebanon that killed about 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers, and nearly 1,200 Lebanese, among them hundreds of Hezbollah fighters, according to the Israeli army.

Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a number of rockets for a second day early Thursday morning, setting off rocket warning sirens in Israeli communities near the border, the military said.

Rockets have intermittently been fired from Gaza at Israeli communities since clashes broke out at Al-Aqsa Tuesday overnight. Israel has struck targets in the Strip in response. There have since been further rounds of violence at Al-Aqsa, as well as clashes in a few Arab Israeli communities.

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