Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman warned on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was harming Israel’s deterrence capability by not “disproportionately” attacking Hezbollah in response to its fatal strike on a northern IDF patrol the previous day.
It is a mistake not to react, Liberman said, and argued that even a proportionate reaction sent the wrong message.
“The terrorists [Hezbollah] want a proportionate response, because it would lead to a war of attrition and perpetuate the conflict,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page, declaring that what was needed now was “a disproportionate response that defeats terrorism.”
For his part, Netanyahu toned down his rhetoric against Hezbollah on Thursday, limiting his public comments to blaming Iran.
Speaking at a memorial for former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu said Iran was “arming, training and sponsoring the messengers of terrorism near our borders, north and south.” He said that Tehran “has been trying for a while, via Hezbollah, to set up a front against us on the Golan Heights,” and that “we must work aggressively and responsibly against this.”
The IDF remained on alert and maintained a high presence across the North on Thursday, as a tense calm followed the missile strike that killed two IDF soldiers and wounded seven others on Wednesday.
In that attack, Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon used Kornet antitank missiles against IDF vehicles traveling in the Galilee panhandle village of Ghajar, destroying the vehicles as they drove 2 kilometers from the international border.
The United States, the EU, Great Britain and the United Nations have all urged restraint and a cessation of hostilities.
In a statement supporting Israel, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Hezbollah and any other group to stop attacking Israel along its northern border, warning that such violence threatened to break the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire.
“The threats to Israel on its northern border must stop,” Mogherini said.
“The attacks on the Lebanese-Israeli border are undermining the cessation of hostilities established by UNSC Resolution 1701 and the peace-building efforts along the Blue Line [the UN border demarcation set in 2000].”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was also concerned about violations of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.
In a statement, the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, said it was determined to keep stability in southern Lebanon and to deny the “Israeli enemy the chance to drag Lebanon to a wide confrontation.”
According to the IDF’s long-term assessments, the IDF and Hezbollah are likely to continue trading blows due to the terrorist organization’s activities in both Lebanon and Syria.
In the latter region, Hezbollah’s attempt to set up an Iranian-backed terrorism base triggered an air strike last week, which set off the latest round of violence.
Senior IDF officials do not believe that the long-term exchange of blows will come to an end, irrespective of short-term lulls in violence.
The IDF briefly shut roads near the Lebanese border on Thursday night after residents reported hearing a blast. The roads were reopened soon afterward.
Earlier, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Army Radio that Israel had received a message from Hezbollah via UNIFIL, saying the Islamist group was interested in an end to the current round of hostilities.
“There are coordination channels between us and Lebanon through UNIFIL, and I can say that those channels have been used,” Ya’alon said.
He refrained from saying that the violence had ended, however, stating that the military was “ready for all developments.”
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti also confirmed that the situation was calm.
“Today, after the serious incidents occurred yesterday, which was also a serious violation of Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL force commander and head of mission Maj.-Gen. [Luciano] Portolano was in contact with the parties, in close contact with the parties, throughout the day, 24/7,” he said.
“We kept an open channel of communication, which is still open now and... is always open, in order to ask the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to ensure that the security situation in the south was reestablished and is stable at the moment,” he said.
Liberman, however, said those who argued that Israel should ignore Wednesday’s incident were supporting a situation in which Hezbollah could strengthen its arms capacity and its hold on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, so they could attack when ever they wanted.
“This would be a serious blow to Israel’s deterrence capability,” he wrote in his Facebook post.
Quiet followed the Second Lebanon War in 2006 because it dealt Hezbollah a harsh blow, he said. But Israel’s failure to deal harshly enough with Hamas during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer has emboldened Hezbollah to act against Israel, he continued.
If Israel does not act now, he warned, this perception that it is safe to attack Israel will only grow among terrorist organizations.
“Yesterday, Israel was forced to close airports again, this time in Haifa and Rosh Pina,” the foreign minister went on. Roads and tourist sites were closed, and citizens had their life routines disrupted.
Residents of the North and South cannot be held hostage in this way, he said. “It’s time to take the glove off when dealing with terrorism.”
In response, the Likud called Liberman’s comments irresponsible and said that security responses were best discussed behind closed doors and not in the media or on Facebook.
Netanyahu continues to handle security matters with Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the party said.
It added that Israel would continue to root out terrorism at the right time and in the right place.Reuters contributed to this report.