Hezbollah’s actions endanger Lebanon and can bring the entire region toward unnecessary escalation, Prime Minister Yair Lapid warned Tuesday during a tour of the IDF’s Northern Command.
“The State of Israel is prepared and ready to act against any threat. We are not facing a confrontation, but anyone who tries to harm our sovereignty or the citizens of Israel will very quickly find out that he has made a serious mistake,” Lapid said.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz today toured the Northern Command and the border with Lebanon, held an operational situational assessment, and spoke with senior officers in the sector.
Lapid and Gantz were joined by the head of the National Security Council Eyal Haluta, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevi, Head of the Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, and the PM’s military secretary Brig.-Gen. Shai Clapper.
“Israel is interested in Lebanon as a stable and prosperous neighbor that is not a platform for Hezbollah’s terrorism and is not an Iranian tool,” Lapid said.
Stressing that Israel “has no interest” in an escalation, the terror group’s continued hostile action “endangers Lebanon, its citizens and their well-being,” Lapid said.
“Hezbollah's aggression is unacceptable and could lead the entire region to an unnecessary escalation."Prime Minister Yair Lapid
“Hezbollah’s aggression is unacceptable and could lead the entire region to an unnecessary escalation, especially when Lebanon has a real opportunity to develop its energy resources,” Lapid continued.
Israel, he said, “is acting and will continue to act against every Iranian terrorist branch in the region and in general. Iran is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world. We will act on our own and in cooperation with other countries in the region to prevent Iran from undermining regional stability.”
Gantz said that Jerusalem is keeping a close eye on the financial crisis in Lebanon and that Beirut is “well aware” of what would happen should a war break out between the two sides.
Since the devastating explosion of Beirut’s port in the summer of 2020 and the ongoing financial crisis, Jerusalem has offered aid to Beirut multiple times including to the Lebanese Armed Forces.
The country’s economic meltdown, one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has driven an estimated four million families into poverty in the last two years, unable to afford basic necessities like food or medical care.
Gantz also publicly stated that Israel has offered aid four times in the past year.
Due to the long-standing enmity between the two sides, Lebanon was expected to refuse the aid, but there was no response despite Israel’s follow-up requests to quietly provide the aid through a third country. Israel reached out to provide such goods to the Lebanese people, but Jerusalem never heard back.
“Israel is ready to do a lot to make its neighbors prosper and is ready to act all the time to protect its citizens. We are ready in all dimensions; in the air, at sea, on land and in the cyber sphere,” Gantz said.
But, he added, “the State of Lebanon and its leaders are well aware that if they choose the path of fire, they will be harmed and severely burned. And if they choose the path of stability, they will help the citizens of Lebanon,” he added.
On Monday the IDF intercepted a drone that was launched by the group into Israeli airspace. Earlier this month, the Israeli Navy and Air Force intercepted three other Iranian-made drones that had been launched toward the Karish gas rig.
Lapid, who flew over the rig, said that Israel’s gas reserves can contribute to “resolving the global energy crisis. Lebanon can also benefit from the development of its economic water reservoirs, through negotiations, which must be completed soon,"
"The new rig is the energy future of the State of Israel and an economic opportunity that includes the export of gas to Egypt and Europe, from which every Israeli citizen will benefit in the not too distant future," added the prime minister.
Hezbollah threatens Karish gas rig
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has threatened to use force to prevent the Karish gas rig from producing natural gas, which is expected to start in several weeks. Israel sees the rig as a strategic asset several kilometers south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted, and has warned that it will defend it.
The Lebanese government slammed Hezbollah for the launching of the drones, which was done without the government’s consent.
IDF vs drones
Hezbollah is believed to have some 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, many of them advanced UAVs from Iran and others manufactured independently by the Lebanese terror group.
The Israel Air Force has admitted that identifying and intercepting hostile drones is challenging and considers drones to be one of the top five threats facing the country.
The defense establishment is also concerned about the damage to the IAF’s aerial superiority over Lebanon due to Hezbollah’s long-range missiles and air defense systems.
Beirut demands control over tunnel in Israel
Also on Monday, Hezbollah-allied Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh said that Beirut wants control over a tunnel that goes from Israel into Lebanon built by the British army that has been shuttered since 1948.
The tunnel was built between 1942 and 1944 for a railway to link Egypt and Turkey, passing through what was then the British Mandate of Palestine, and Lebanon. It was blocked up with a cement wall when Israel left south Lebanon. A small segment of the Israeli section is now part of the Rosh Hanikra tourist spot. Gantz and Lapid toured the area on Tuesday.
“Our sovereign rights lie in our decision to restore every inch of the occupied tunnel, besides our decision to restore our land and maritime borders too,” said Hamieh during a visit to Naqoura where the tunnel enters Lebanon.
Hamieh said that the tunnel is another contested area along with the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Chouba Hills along with the disputed maritime border.
“We will not give up an inch,” of the land or maritime borders, Hamieh said, “We also want our rights and borders in the tunnel until the last square meter.”