Visiting Kiryat Shmona, Ben Gvir demands 'war'

IDF chief: Israel nearing decision on whether to launch war against Hezbollah

War cabinet huddles as blazes sparked by Hezbollah attacks scorch north; London warns Beirut to prep for IDF offensive; Gantz: North will be dealt with by end of summer

View of a large fire caused from rockets fired from Lebanon, near the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
View of a large fire caused from rockets fired from Lebanon, near the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that Israel is close to making a decision regarding Hezbollah’s daily attacks on northern Israel amid the Gaza war.

“We are approaching the point where a decision will have to be made, and the IDF is prepared and very ready for this decision,” Halevi said during an assessment with military officials and Fire Commissioner Eyal Caspi, at an army base in Kiryat Shmona.

“We have been attacking for eight months, and Hezbollah is paying a very, very high price. It has increased its strengths in recent days and we are prepared after a very good process of training… to move to an attack in the north,” he said.

“[We have] strong defense, readiness to attack, [and] we are approaching a decision point,” he added.

Halevi and Caspi later met with firefighters who worked to extinguish large blazes in northern Israel over the past two days, some of which were sparked by Hezbollah rocket and drone attacks.

The war cabinet met on Tuesday night to discuss the latest developments along the border with Lebanon amid criticism of the government for failing to bring security to the region after long months of conflict.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (right) meets with Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Eyal Caspi at the Gibor Camp in Kiryat Shmona, June 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Amid the clashes, a military reservist was moderately wounded by shrapnel from an interceptor missile launched over the northern city of Safed earlier Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said, adding that it launched the interceptor after identifying a “suspicious aerial target” in the north. It was later revealed to have been a false alarm.

The interceptor shrapnel also sparked a fire in Biriya Forest near Safed. By the afternoon, 10 firefighting teams, along with a firefighting plane, were working to extinguish the fire, according to Fire and Rescue services. The Merom Hagalil Regional Council said earlier that the blaze did not pose a threat to nearby communities.

Firefighters were also battling to control a blaze at Keren Naftali, while fires in Kiryat Shmona, Manara and Kfar Giladi, caused by the Hezbollah projectiles, were under control.

Separately, a “suspicious aerial target” that was heading toward Israel from Lebanon was shot down by air defenses over the sea, near Nahariya, the IDF added.

No sirens sounded in the incident.

Additionally, the IDF announced that earlier in the morning a “suspicious aerial target,” thought to be an explosive-laden drone, impacted in the Mount Hermon area, causing no injuries.

Meanwhile, new satellite imagery showed the devastation wrought by some of the large fires in northern Israel in recent days sparked by Hezbollah’s rockets and drones.

Images from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite, processed by the Sentinel Hub website, showed scorched land south of the Golan Heights city of Katzrin.

These May 29 and June 3, 2024 true-color images from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite, processed by the Sentinel Hub website, show the Katzrin area in the Golan Heights, before and after a major fire. (European Commission)

The large fire was sparked by a barrage of rockets and several drones launched by Hezbollah at the area on Sunday. According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, bushfires consumed 10,000 dunams (over 2,470 acres) of foliage in open areas, including nature reserves.

Across the border, a Hezbollah operative was killed in an IDF drone strike in southern Lebanon’s Naqoura earlier Tuesday, the military said.

The IDF also said it carried out an airstrike against Hezbollah infrastructure and buildings in Ayta ash-Shab and Odaisseh.

Troops meanwhile shelled a number of areas in southern Lebanon with artillery to “remove threats,” the army said.

Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported the death in the “enemy drone strike,” but did not say whether the casualty was a civilian or terror operative.

NNA also reported that two Lebanese soldiers needed to be treated for phosphorus inhalation following an Israeli strike near a military position in the border town of Markaba.

Ben Gvir demands ‘war’

Following harsh criticism by his political opponents over the deteriorating situation, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the northern city of Kiryat Shmona.

After a situational assessment with fire and rescue officials and meetings with local police and Mayor Avichai Stern, Ben Gvir released a video in which he demanded stronger military action in Lebanon.

“We finished a situation assessment and a visit to Kiryat Shmona. I think it’s amazing to see firefighters risking their lives, policemen who are here 24/7,” he said. “And now the IDF’s job is to destroy Hezbollah.”

Ben Gvir said it is unacceptable that “our land is under fire and we are being hurt, that people here are evacuating,” while there is “quiet in Lebanon.”

“They’re burning [us] here. All Hezbollah strongholds should be burned, they should be destroyed. War!” he cried.

On Monday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slammed Ben Gvir, whose ministry oversees the fire service, for attending a festive event in Jerusalem as blazes raged across the north. Ben Gvir said he only attended for 10 minutes.

Gantz: By settlement or strike

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz said hostilities on the northern border will be dealt with by the start of the next school year “whether by [diplomatic] arrangement or [military] escalation” and faulted Netanyahu for not joining him and fellow party member Gadi Eizenkot on a tour of the north.

“I’ve been engaged for months in a struggle, with the prime minister and with everyone, so that by September 1, we’ll be done here and will be able to deal with something new. It will pass either by arrangement or escalation, but we can’t lose another year,” he said from Nahariya.

“Truthfully, [Netanyahu] needed to be here today. One who smells the char of the fire, one who hears the residents’ cries, one who speaks with the local leaders, can lead,” Gantz added, according to a readout from his office.

He also appeared to endorse reaching a deal in Gaza to free the hostages and allow the military to shift attention to the north. “It won’t be easy, it will cost us, it will hurt, but it’s the right thing to do.”

UK warns Lebanon of imminent war

Meanwhile, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese news outlet al-Akhbar reported that Britain has warned Lebanon that Israel will launch a large-scale offensive in mid-June whose extent and duration are not known and advised Beirut to “make the necessary provisions for the war.”

The paper added that Nabih Berri, the speaker of Lebanon’s parliament and a Hezbollah ally, received a phone call from US special envoy Amos Hochstein last week. Hochstein reportedly told Berri that the US intends to continue negotiations “to achieve a solution” on the Israel-Lebanon border and to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, and after that, talks will begin on the outstanding points between Israel and Lebanon.

In recent days, diplomats from various countries have warned Lebanese officials of an imminent escalation by the IDF, and have underscored that the threat is serious, al-Akhbar reported.

Hezbollah’s deputy head Naim Qassem told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the powerful armed group’s decision was not to widen its months-long war with Israel, but that it would fight if a full-scale war is imposed on it.

The comments were carried in a newsflash on Al Jazeera’s broadcast ahead of the interview’s airing.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries. Hezbollah has named 329 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has expressed openness to a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but has threatened to go to war against Hezbollah to restore security to the north of Israel, where tens of thousands of civilians are currently displaced.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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