An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF increased its presence in northern communities throughout Thursday as part of a measure to boost defenses around civilian areas ahead of a potential Hezbollah attack. Local residents saw an upsurge in military traffic in their areas.
Two northern roads straddling the Lebanese border that were closed by the army on Wednesday remained closed Thursday.
The army identified suspicious activity on the Lebanese side of the northern border fence on Wednesday evening, leading to road closures and local communities being put on alert.
The defense establishment has been on alert since an air strike on Sunday that killed 12 Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps senior operatives near Quneitra, Syria.
Senior Iranian military officials on Thursday continued to threaten “crushing responses” against Israel for the death of top Revolutionary Guards officer, Muhammad Allahdadi, in the strike. The attack also killed senior Hezbollah operatives, among them Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Hezbollah terrorist operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh.
Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij visited Syrian army units in the south of the country, and said the country’s military “today has more power and determination to fight against the terrorists, chief among them, Israel.”
Brig.-Gen. Hossein Salami, the second-in-command in the Revolutionary Guards, told Iranian state media on Thursday that his troops are capable of firing Shahab- 3 missiles on Israel.
“[Israel] should be waiting for crushing responses,” Salami was quoted as saying. The Iranian officer said Sunday’s Golan attack was an attempt to “change the balance of power in Syria,” and help “the takfirist,” a reference to the Islamist elements working to topple the government of Tehran’s key ally, President Bashar Assad.
“[The Golan strike] was the reflection of numerous defeats that both Americans and Israelis have suffered in their current strategies,” he said. “They have seen IRGC’s reactions before, and [therefore] they are worried, and they will witness destructive thunderbolts in practice.”
The tensions in the North are also being felt in Lebanon, where apprehension is growing over the specter of another war. The Lebanese television network Al-Mustaqbal reported on Thursday that Israeli reconnaissance planes were flying sorties over southern Lebanon. An Al-Arabiya correspondent reported that the Lebanese military and UNIFIL were conducting joint patrols along the frontier with Israel. The television network also reported that the Lebanese army had erected a number of checkpoints along roadways leading to the Israeli border.
A Lebanese parliamentarian with the Future Movement told the Elnashra news agency that his country’s interests have been subjugated to the whims of Iran.
“Fears of war between Hezbollah and Israel exist after [Hezbollah] showed no concern [to safeguard] the Lebanese interests as it implements an Iranian agenda,” MP Ahmad Fatfat said. The lawmaker cited remarks made by Iranian leaders vowing revenge against Israel.
The commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, said Wednesday that the Iranian response would be to strike Israel with “ruinous thunderbolts.”
The threats of retaliation did not sit well with Fatfat.
“These comments threaten to drag Lebanon into a war [with Israel],” Fatfat said, lamenting that “both Lebanon and Syria are under Iranian tutelage. Hezbollah is prioritizing Iranian interests above Lebanese interests,” the MP said. He argued that Hezbollah’s enlistment to the Syrian cause was proof that Iran held overall sway.
The Future Movement is a secular, liberal Sunni party founded by billionaire Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2005. Many suspect that Hezbollah had a hand in the killing, since Hariri was an outspoken critic of Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon. The party is currently led by Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri.
Another Lebanese official, Environment Minister Muhammad Machnouk, said Lebanon is committed to Resolution 1701, the UN Security Council resolution which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
“We cannot place the country on the edge,” Machnouk was quoted as saying in Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.
Communication Minister Boutros Harb told Lebanese media that his country “should not be drawn into the repercussions resulting from the involvement of others in foreign lands,” a reference to Hezbollah and Iran. As part of steps designed to boost its readiness, the IDF has increased its presence in the North, in the form of artillery, infantry and armored units. The Israel Air Force has also gone on alert to decrease response times to incidents. The military also deployed Iron Dome air defense batteries to the North earlier in the week.