Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned Sunday that the governments of Syria and Lebanon would pay a price if Israel was attacked in the wake of an alleged Israeli strike in Syria that left up to 12 Iranian and Hezbollah operatives dead.
“We bolstered our forces in order to stay ahead of any carrying out of the threats they are issuing there,” Ya’alon said in an interview with Army Radio. “There is Iron Dome, and we have advanced other forces, so that if someone decides to carry out a threat, he will also pay a price for it. This is not just organizations. The ones who bear responsibility in the north are governments, regimes, and the organizations themselves.”
The Israeli army increased its presence in northern Israel on Saturday, fearing a response by Hezbollah or Iran to the strike, which occurred a week ago, and left two Hezbollah commanders and an Iranian general dead, among others.
Ya’alon said that Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, were working together to open a front against Israel in the Golan Heights. “They started with rockets and a few mines, and we understood that they wanted to upgrade this to much more meaningful quality attacks, including infiltrating communities in the Golan Heights, anti-tank attacks, sniper fire, etc.”
The defense minister urged Israelis in the north to continue to go about their business, but said that there were warnings sent to Israeli interests around the globe.
“I say to residents of the north and also the visitors who poured into the north over the weekend to continue in their routine until we say otherwise,” emphasized Ya’alon. “The army’s job is to prepare for every development.
“The deployment is not only along the border. But we are deploying to stay ahead of every possibility, whether it’s internal terror or abroad. The warning has been passed along, and our representatives abroad are prepared, ready and secure.”
In the interview, Ya’alon said that the unnamed Israeli official who apologized last week for killing an Iranian general in the strike acted without authorization.
Ya’alon added that the timing of the strike had nothing to do with the upcoming elections.
Iran and Hezbollah have issued a series of threats since the strike, warning of a “crushing response,” and “destructive thunderbolts.” The dead included an Iranian general and senior Hezbollah commanders, Muhammad Issa and Jihad Mughniyeh, son of slain terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.
But Lebanese media also reported that Hezbollah has assured the government in Beirut that it will not strike back at Israel from Lebanese territory.
IDF Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz toured the Northern Command on Friday. Gantz said Friday security forces were “very alert, very primed, very prepared for any action that will be required” of them.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is reportedly set to send a message via Russia to Iran, Syria and Lebanon that Israel has no interest in escalated hostilities, but cannot tolerate the establishment of a terror basis across the Syrian border on the Golan. Ynet reported that Liberman will convey the message during talks with his Russian counterpart on a visit to Moscow and Beijing that begins Sunday.
A report on Channel 2 Friday said the strike targeted the leaders of a substantial new Hezbollah terror hierarchy that was set to attempt kidnappings, rocket attacks and other assaults on military and civilian targets in northern Israel.
The new terror unit involved Mughniyeh, who was coordinating with the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qasem Soleimani, the Channel 2 report said. There was no suggestion in the report that Soleimani, a key figure in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah, was in the area at the time.
The unit was set up “with Iranian sponsorship,” the report said. Israel’s targeting of some of its members underlined that “a red line was crossed that Israel would not tolerate.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.