Three troop divisions have been deployed to the northern border, the Israeli military said Saturday, issuing a strident warning to the Hezbollah while detailing strikes that Israel says has killed hundreds of terror operatives seeking to enflame the restive border.
The comments from Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari included rare acknowledgement of dozens of airstrikes inside Syria against the terror group, with the IDF is working to “reshape the security reality” on the northern border to allow some 80,000 Israelis displaced by months of incessant attacks to return home.
Israel will be “ready to attack immediately” if provoked, Hagari warned.
“We do not choose war as our first priority, but we are certainly prepared,” he said.
According to Hagari, since fighting on the northern border began in the immediate wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, the IDF had targeted more than 3,400 Hezbollah sites and struck more than 150 cells, killing some 200 operatives, mostly members of Hezbollah.
Among the targets hit included some 120 observation posts, 40 weapons depots, and 40 command centers manned by Hezbollah members, along with more significant sites such as an airstrip used by Hezbollah to launch drones and a weapons depot storing anti-aircraft missiles, Hagari said.
During the press conference, Hagari aired rare footage showing a strike on a Hezbollah cell in southern Syria last month.
Hagari in his press conference also airs footage of a strike on a Hezbollah cell in southern Syria. pic.twitter.com/gxKBU8gTuB
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) February 3, 2024
“We will continue to act wherever Hezbollah is present, we will continue to act wherever it is required in the Middle East. What is true for Lebanon is true for Syria, and is true for other more distant places.”
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 six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.
Hezbollah has named 177 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 22 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.
Hostilities on the border continued Saturday, with Hezbollah launching projectiles from Lebanon at the Mount Dov area and the communities of Even Menahem and Yir’on.
The IDF said it shelled the launch sites as well as other areas in Lebanon throughout the day.
The army also said it carried out an airstrike on a Hezbollah building in the southern Lebanese village of Taybeh.
On Friday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that a potential pause in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza being negotiated between Israel and the Hamas terror group would not apply to Hezbollah, which halted attacking Israel for a week in November during an earlier truce.
“If Hezbollah thinks that when there’s a pause in fighting in the south, we will hold fire against it, it’s sorely mistaken,” Gallant said after meeting troops from the IDF’s Alpine Unit on Mount Hermon, according to a statement from his office.
“I say here explicitly: Until we reach a situation in which it’s possible to restore security for residents of the north, we will not stop. Whether we reach this through a [diplomatic] arrangement or military means, we will [restore] calm,” he told troops, according to the statement from his office.
Top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go to war in Lebanon after the campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza is over, with the aim of driving Hezbollah away from the border in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Gallant discussed northern border tensions during a call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday night, after Austin told a press conference that the US did not think a full-out war between Israel and Hezbollah was likely.
The US is seeking to help broker a diplomatic agreement between Israel and Hezbollah to prevent a full-blown war with US envoy Amos Hochstein slated to arrive in Israel in the coming days.
Hochstein was heavily involved in shepherding talks that culminated in Israel and Lebanon demarcating a maritime border in 2022.
On Tuesday, Gallant warned that Israel could escalate its actions against Hezbollah, possibly sparking widening attacks that could affect Haifa, Israel’s largest northern city.
“The stage will come when our patience will run out, and a forceful action to enforce peace on the northern border will also affect the Haifa metropolis,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.