Soldier killed by Lebanon missile; Gallant: Hezbollah joined fighting, is paying price

Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva, a dual Israeli-American citizen, flew from US to report for duty, was killed Friday night; 3 others hurt; defense minister meets with troops in north

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

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. Inset: Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva, killed in a Hezbollah missile attack. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar; Israel Defense Forces)
Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. Inset: Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva, killed in a Hezbollah missile attack. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar; Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli reserve soldier was killed on Friday night in an anti-tank missile attack along the border with Lebanon amid renewed skirmishes, the Israel Defense Forces announced Saturday.

The soldier was named as Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva, 22, a commander in the 9203rd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade, from Herzliya.

Balva was a dual Israeli-American citizen. A child of Israeli parents, he grew up in Rockville, Maryland, where he went to the Charles E. Smith Jewish day school.

He went to Israel to serve in the IDF, but was in the US last week when called into reserve service, promptly flying back to Israel to report for duty.

In response to a number of missile and rocket attacks by Hezbollah on Friday, the IDF said it carried out a number of strikes overnight targeting sites belonging to the Iran-backed terror group in southern Lebanon.

According to the IDF, the targets included a “series of military facilities used by the organization for operational needs” and an anti-tank missile launcher directed at Israel.

Staff Sgt. (res.) Omer Balva (via social media)

“The IDF is ready for all scenarios in the various sectors and will continue to act for the security of Israeli citizens,” the military said early Saturday morning.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group has been paying “a heavy price” for its missile, rocket, and shooting attacks against Israeli military sites, troops, and Israeli towns in northern Israel in recent days.

“Hezbollah has decided to participate in the fighting, we are exacting a heavy price from it,” Gallant said to troops at the 91st territorial division base, at the Biranit camp on the Lebanon border.

“I assume that the challenges will be greater [than they are now], and you have to take this into account, to be ready like a [coiled] spring for any situation,” he added to the forces.

Recent days have seen repeated clashes between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah terror group and allied Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon, amid fears a new front could be opened as Israel continues its war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to soldiers at the Biranit camp on the Lebanon border, October 21, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

On Friday, a gunman opened fire at Israeli troops operating near the northern town of Margaliot, on the Lebanon border, seriously wounding one. The gunman was killed several hours later in another exchange of fire in the area.

The IDF said it also foiled plans by six terror cells in southern Lebanon on Friday, carrying out drone strikes and sniper fire against squads preparing missile attacks, gunmen, and other members of Hezbollah identified near the border.

Also Friday, the IDF said some 20-30 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward the contested Mount Dov area — where there are a number of military positions and no towns — and two rockets were fired at the northern town of Metula. Anti-tank-guided missiles were also fired at several IDF posts, and gunfire targeted Israeli surveillance equipment on the border.

In the last missile attack on Friday evening against troops operating in the Netu’a and Biranit areas on the northern border, Balva was killed and at least three other soldiers were hurt.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the missiles and gunfire.

Smoke rises following an Israeli artillery strike in al-Bustan, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Also on Friday night, the IDF said it intercepted a “target” — believed to be a drone — that was heading toward Israeli airspace from Lebanon. The IDF said the object did not manage to enter Israeli airspace.

On Friday morning, the military ordered the evacuation of Kiryat Shmona amid escalating tensions on the northern border. The town has a population of some 22,000 residents, though many have already left.

On Thursday, three residents were injured by a rocket strike on a home in what appeared to be the most serious attack on the city since 2006.

Earlier this week, the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority began working to evacuate all communities within two kilometers of the Lebanon border. The 28 towns and villages have an estimated 27,000 residents.

Hezbollah has fired dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and Israeli towns since the Hamas onslaught, while also sending gunmen — some affiliated with Palestinian terror groups — to infiltrate into northern Israel. Several drones have also been intercepted over northern Israel.

The tit-for-tat attacks have so far remained limited in scope, amid threats from Israel that Lebanon could suffer if Hezbollah steps up its attacks.

Israeli security forces inspect a site where a rocket launched from Lebanon landed in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona near the border on October 19, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

At least six Israeli soldiers, 13 Hezbollah terrorists and five Palestinian terrorists have been killed in the exchanges. One Israeli civilian was killed in a Hezbollah attack, and several Lebanese civilians and a journalist were also reported killed by Israeli shelling.

The attacks from Lebanon have come as Israel is waging war in Gaza against Hamas after the terror group’s murderous assault on the country on October 7, in which some 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians, and more than 200 were kidnapped and taken to the Strip.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has said that if the Iran-backed Hezbollah “makes a mistake,” it will face “destruction.”

There have been escalating threats from Iran regarding the possibility of the war being widened, as Israel prepares a ground offensive with the stated goal of toppling Hamas’s rule over the Palestinian enclave.

Israel and the US have both warned Iran and Hezbollah to remain on the sidelines, with Washington dispatching two aircraft carrier groups to the region, signaling it could step in to defend Israel.

With alert levels high, Hezbollah has said it would be “fully prepared” to join its Palestinian ally Hamas in the war against Israel when the time is right.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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