Soldiers in northern Israel have been put on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets and threats against Israel from officials in neighboring countries.
The Israel Defense Forces believes the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group will attempt to attack soldiers or a military installation, and not civilians.
In light of these concerns, the army on Tuesday restricted the movement of military vehicles along roads close to the Lebanese border.
“It was decided that the movement of certain military vehicles along a number of roadways will require individual approval in accordance with a situational assessment,” an IDF spokesperson said.
These limitations were not imposed on civilians in border communities.
“We reiterate and stress that in this region daily routines are continuing fully, there is no restriction of movement [for civilians] along any roadway,” the head of security for the border town of Metulla said in a message to residents.
Israeli officials have threatened a harsh response to any reprisals by Hezbollah, both against the group itself and against the state of Lebanon, which Jerusalem sees as complicit in the terrorist militia’s activities.
“The Israeli response to an attack will be disproportionate,” an unnamed senior officer told Israel’s Channel 12 news on Monday night.
Similar threats were reportedly passed along to the Lebanese government by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following a phone call he had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The army’s Northern Command has been on high alert since the Israeli Air Force conducted its strikes against an Iranian-controlled base in Syria from which Tehran’s operatives planned to launch an armed drone attack against northern Israel.
The IDF has not put out new safety instructions to civilian residents of the north nor has it sent reinforcements to the area, but the Northern Command has changed the deployment of its troops in light of the threat.
“The home front is in a state of routine, and we are working to preserve that. The IDF has increased its level of preparedness, both in terms of defense and attack,” said Brig. Gen. Amit Fisher, the head of the IDF’s Bashan Division in the Northern Command.
In the coming days, the security establishment may decide to bring additional soldiers to the area.
“Numerous intelligence and operational efforts are being made in order to continue to protect the security of residents,” Fisher said Tuesday, speaking to the heads of local governments.
Lebanese media reported that Israeli troops along the border with Lebanon left some of the posts closest to the security fence, apparently out of concerns for anti-tank guided missile strikes.
In one of the last direct confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah — after the IDF allegedly killed two of the group’s members and an Iranian general in a 2015 airstrike — the Tehran-backed militia carried out an antitank guided missile attack on two Israeli military Humvees in the disputed Shebaa Farms area along the Israeli-Lebanese border, killing two soldiers and injuring seven more.
That attack led to an hours-long exchange of gunfire and artillery shells in which a UN peacekeeper was unintentionally killed by Israel.
The IDF on Monday told residents of northern Israel to continue with their routines, despite the fears of an attack.
“Civilian activities are to continue as usual. All activities can go on, including trips and agricultural work. There are no restrictions on movement. At the same time, we as a military are advancing preparations for every scenario. There will be a lot of movement in the area,” the IDF told area residents, according to the Walla news site.
An Iranian government spokesperson said on Monday that Israel would suffer for its recent attacks on Iranian and Iran-linked targets.
Ali Rabiei, a spokesperson for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said “Israel will pay a high price for its attacks.”
“Repeated acts of aggression against Iraq are black stains on track records of this regime and we condemn any aggression against sovereignty of regional countries,” Rabiei was quoted as saying by the Xinhua news agency.
He referred to recent threats by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, saying that the terror leader “conveyed a clear message to the Zionist regime that its acts of aggression will be answered.”
The threat comes amid reports of Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and a war of words between Israeli officials and leaders in neighboring countries, heightening fears of further violence in the region.
Israel carried out airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria on Saturday to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives-laden drones into the country.
Then on Sunday, one drone exploded and another crashed in Beirut outside a Hezbollah facility. The terror group blamed Israel, but analysts speculate the drones are more likely Iranian in origin.
Hezbollah on Tuesday said that the drone that crashed was rigged with explosives and aiming to attack its facilities.
The IDF refused to publicly comment on the incident, saying it does not comment on “foreign reports.”
It marked the first such “hostile action” in Lebanon since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Nasrallah said on Sunday, vowing retaliation.
“The time — in which Israeli planes come and bombard a place in Lebanon and the usurping entity of Palestine remains secure — has ended,” he declared. “From now on, we will confront the Israeli drones in Lebanon’s skies… and we will take action to bring them down.”
In a separate incident, Arabic media claimed early Monday morning that Israeli aircraft had carried out an airstrike deep inside Lebanon on a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a Syria-based terrorist group that fights alongside Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
The base is located in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria.
In a further spike in regional violence on Sunday, there was an attack on an Iran-linked militia in Iraq blamed on Israel, and on Monday, Israel bombed a Hamas base in Gaza in response to three rockets being fired into Israel from the Strip.
The string of incidents has raised fears of a widening conflagration in the region after years of Israel restricting its air campaign against Iran-backed fighters to Syria. In recent months, Israel has also been blamed for attacks on Iran-backed fighters in Iraq.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and a powerful Iraqi paramilitary force on Monday both said the respective strikes on their countries were a “declaration of war” by Israel.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday held a meeting with envoys from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — and said Beirut would be filing an official complaint to the top UN body over the “clear Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty,” Lebanese news site Naharnet reported.
Netanyahu on Monday urged the international community to take action against the regional threat posed by Tehran and its proxies.
In a 17-second Hebrew-language YouTube video, the premier vowed that Israel would continue to “defend its security by any means necessary.”
“Iran is acting in a broad front to produce murderous terror attacks against Israel,” he said. “Israel will continue to defend its security by any means necessary.
“I call on the international community to act immediately to ensure Iran stops these attacks,” he added.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has called for “maximum restraint” by all parties.
US Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Netanyahu on Monday, saying that the US “fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats.”
Hezbollah is thought to be constrained domestically by concerns inside Lebanon that a reprisal attack could wind up dragging the country into war.
Israel’s Channel 13 news reported Monday that Israel has warned Lebanon that any Hezbollah attack against Israel would bring an Israeli response against Lebanon as a whole: “It won’t distinguish between Lebanon and Hezbollah.”