Top IDF officer tells mayors chance of conflict with Hezbollah appears low

Council heads express concern over rumors of war after recent border clashes, but head of Northern Command says residents can go about their business as normal

File: IDF soldiers guard the northern border with Lebanon, during a demonstration on the Lebanese side of the border marking the 17th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, July 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
File: IDF soldiers guard the northern border with Lebanon, during a demonstration on the Lebanese side of the border marking the 17th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, July 12, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

IDF Northern Command chief Ori Gordin told mayors of towns near the Lebanese border that the military believes the chances of an immediate conflict with the Hezbollah terror group are low, a local council said Sunday.

Gordin shared the assessment during a meeting Friday with municipal leaders and said residents should continue to go about their daily routines, the Metula Local Council said in a statement. He also updated them about the military’s preparations for various potential scenarios.

Council heads “expressed their position regarding the winds of war that are frequently heard in the media recently,” and described the feelings of locals over recent disturbances on the border.

The meeting came following several recent incidents instigated by Hezbollah, including Saturday when a Lebanese lawmaker and others crossed the border into Israeli territory before troops chased them back with warning shots.

On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said troops fired warning shots and used riot dispersal means after a number of Lebanese suspects hurled stones toward the border. The small group eventually left the area, a military spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, the IDF detonated a non-lethal explosive charge after Hezbollah members attempted to damage Israel’s border fence. In another area, Hezbollah activists climbed an Israeli military tower on the border and stole surveillance equipment. The army only became aware of the incident five hours after it occurred, the Ynet news site reported Sunday, without citing sources.

Hezbollah activists climb an Israeli surveillance tower on the border with Lebanon, July 12, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a third incident Wednesday, IDF troops fired warning shots at a group of Hezbollah activists who launched fireworks and set fires near Metula, during a protest to mark 17 years since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Last week, an anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon at the contested village of Ghajar, causing no injuries. And in another incident last week, dozens of Lebanese soldiers along with some Hezbollah members crossed into Israeli territory without passing the border fence itself, before eventually heading back.

Last month, Hezbollah said it shot down an Israeli drone flying over a village in southern Lebanon.

Earlier in June, two tents manned by armed Hezbollah members were discovered on Israeli territory in the contested Mount Dov region. One tent was removed after Israel sent a message to Hezbollah threatening an armed confrontation if it did not remove the outpost soon.

The boundary between Israel and Lebanon, known as the Blue Line, is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas, which Israel says is built entirely within Israeli territory.

The Mount Dov area was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War but the Lebanese government and Hezbollah say it belongs to Lebanon.

Israel has relayed requests via the UN to have the tents removed, while in response, Lebanon and Hezbollah have demanded that Israel withdraw from Ghajar.

Ghajar, the only Alawite-majority settlement in Israel, was part of the territory captured from Syria in 1967 and was effectively annexed by Israel in 1981 together with the Golan Heights.

A construction worker works on the roof of a house under construction in the village of Ghajar on July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the demarcation of the Blue Line, the village was split in two, with the northern half coming officially under Lebanese control. Israel regained control over the entire village during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and residents have repeatedly objected to the potential division of the village and annexation of its northern half to Lebanon.

The town remained a closed military zone for more than two decades, with special permission required for nonresidents seeking to enter or exit. In September, with the construction of a barrier north of the village to block the entrance from Lebanon, access restrictions were lifted.

Hezbollah has long been the IDF’s most potent adversary on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.

In April, 34 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon at Israel, in an attack Israel blamed on a wing of the Palestinian Hamas terror group in the area, rather than Hezbollah.

Separately, in March, the IDF blamed Hezbollah for sending a terrorist to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon and plant a bomb at a junction in northern Israel. The blast seriously wounded one Israeli man.

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