Israel will react to any breach of its borders with both determination and restraint, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, referring to Palestinian plans to repeat last month’s “Nakba Day” protests with marches on the borders to mark 44 years since the Six Day War.
“Like any country in the world, Israel has the right and duty to guard and defend its borders. Therefore my instructions are clear: to act with restraint, but with the necessary decisiveness to protect our borders, our communities and our citizens,” Netanyahu said at a hi-tech conference in Jerusalem.
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“On the 15th of May we celebrated the establishment of the State of Israel, and we witnessed attempts to subvert our sovereignty and breach our borders on behalf of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas,” said the prime minister. Those same actors, he said, are expected to lead similar events over the coming days.
Speaking ahead of a graduation ceremony at the Staff and Command College in Glilot, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said the military was deploying more troops in the North in preparation for “Naksa Day” infiltration attempts.
“We will move troops and command posts to the front lines,” Gantz said.
An extensive Internet campaign to commemorate the “Naksa,” or the “setback” of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, has called on Palestinians and their supporters to march on Israel’s borders on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday.
Marches on the Syrian border could begin on Friday, and could spread to other borders on Sunday – the anniversary of the war’s outbreak – and include marches on Jerusalem’s Al-Aksa Mosque to declare Palestinian “allegiance” to the city.
Lebanon’s military declared the border area with Israel a closed military zone on Thursday, Lebanese press reports said.
Eleven people were killed on the Lebanese border on May 15, in “Nakba Day” clashes for which Beirut has blamed Israel.
The decision came after Israel warned Lebanon and Syria against allowing any provocations.
“We shall use all means to prevent an attack on our sovereignty. You will be held accountable,” Israeli Radio quoted a military source as saying.
The IDF has raised troop numbers along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, reinforced the Golan Heights security fence and added observation points and snipers at the northern frontiers. The army has also raised its levels of alert in the West Bank and around the Gaza Strip.
For the first time in three years, the IDF chief of staff convened a meeting of the army’s highest-ranking combat officers for a security briefing, Channel 2 reported. Gantz instructed the officers to investigate the “Nakba Day” breaches, and to learn from the apparent security lapses that allowed them to occur.
“Mistakes must be learned from,” Gantz said. “Any negligent commander will find himself quickly outside of the army – but those who make mistakes and work to correct them will receive full support from me.”
Organizers in Lebanon had originally planned to march from the southern coastal village of Nakoura eastward to Khiam, a village 4 kilometers from the border. Between 300 and 500 buses were reportedly scheduled to transport tens of thousands of Palestinian-Lebanese to the border areas.
Lebanese officials, however, have reportedly held meetings with Palestinian factions in recent days to convince them to instead hold an indoor rally in Sidon or Beirut.
Khiam was the site of a detention center run by the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army during the IDF’s 18-year presence in the security zone from 1982 to 2000, but was destroyed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The Hezbollah-linked Al-Akhbar daily reported that protests planned for Sunday may be canceled altogether in light of heavy pressure applied by the Lebanese military on organizers to avoid violence on the border. Reports from Lebanon suggest Hezbollah is also seeking to avoid a violent showdown after last week’s attack on a UN-monitoring contingent left six Italian soldiers wounded.
Maj.-Gen. Alberto Asarta of Spain, commander of UNIFIL, was reported to be meeting with Israeli officials to discuss efforts to avoid further border incidents.
“There is great pressure on Hezbollah,” a Palestinian official told the Al-Akhbar.
“Hezbollah is in an awkward situation with its Palestinian allies. It wants to send them to the border, but the explosion last week has made it reconsider the plan on a security and political level.”
On Wednesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called on all Arabs to confront Israel on Naksa Day.
“We expect the Arab peoples, armies, governments and resistance fighters to move on the 1948 territories and return them to the Palestinians,” Nasrallah said. He said those killed in “Nakba Day” marches in Lebanon and on the Golan “spilled their blood to revive an immense and holy purpose.”
A UN envoy on Thursday emphasized the need to maintain calm on the volatile border.
“We can’t afford to see the recurrence of the tragedy that took place on
May 15. We fully respect the Palestinian people’s right to demonstrate
and demand their rights, but we do not want to repeat what happened,” UN
Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told Lebanese Prime
Minister-designate Najib Mikati.
“I also emphasized that Lebanon’s commitment to 1701 must be accompanied
by additional efforts with regards to the remaining parts of the
resolution. In this regard, I stressed the need at this volatile time
for all parties to respect the Blue Line [international border],”
Williams said, referring to the Security Council resolution that ended
the 2006 war.