Israel will not tolerate any attempts to destabilize its northern border and will respond with force to any attack, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned Friday on a tour of the northern front with military leaders, as the army remained on high alert in the area.
The IDF bolstered its presence along the Lebanon border Thursday in anticipation of a possible retaliatory attack by Hezbollah for an airstrike on members of the terror group allegedly carried out by Israel on Sunday. The alert remained in force throughout Friday, although military sources said they had detected no change in Hezbollah deployment.
“We must be prepared for any attempt to challenge us, in view of the statements being made on the other said,” Ya’alon said, adding that Israel would hold the governments of its neighboring nations responsible for any attack.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen. Benny Gantz also visited Northern Command’s headquarters and said security forces were “very alert, very primed, very prepared for any action that will be required” of them.
Though the leaders of the defense establishment made bold statements, the general public appeared unconcerned. Walla News reported that the tensions did nothing to dissuade Israelis from visiting Israel’s most popular winter tourism spot: Around 5,000 people had arrived at Mt. Hermon, the country’s only ski resort, by noon Friday.
The mountain straddles the borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
According to defense officials, the IDF has mobilized ground and air forces to the border region and deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries throughout northern Israel as precautionary measures.
Israeli TV reports noted “a massive military presence” in the North, with locals speaking of the highest tension in the area since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
The IDF’s Northern Command has told residents to expect road closures, an increase of military traffic on roads, and air force activity overhead.
Heightened tensions along the border were the result of a deadly airstrike that killed 12 Lebanese Hezbollah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members near Quneitra, on the border with Syria on Sunday. The dead included an Iranian general and a senior Hezbollah commander, Jihad Mughniyeh, son of slain terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.
The Israeli government has not confirmed it was involved in the airstrike on the record, but officials have admitted as much off the record.
Iranian officials have threatened harsh retaliation against Israel for Sunday’s strike. Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said Tuesday that Israel should anticipate “devastating lightning,” according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency, and that Iran would widen its support for Muslim fighters in the Middle East “until the final collapse of the Zionist regime.”
According to reports in Lebanese media this week, Iran and Hezbollah, in coordination with the Assad regime, were preparing “a large strategic plan” to engage the IDF along the 150-kilometer (93 mile) Israeli border with Syria and Lebanon, and training local militias on the Syrian Golan to combat Israel.
Tamar Pileggi, Adiv Sterman and Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.