A Pro-Hezbollah website on Monday quoted Lebanon’s parliament speaker as denouncing an Israeli warplane’s breaking the sound barrier a day earlier as “a direct threat.”The Al-Akhbar site said that Speaker Nabih Berri additionally called the loud flyover, which damaged some buildings in the Sidon area of southern Lebanon, “a message directed at us, meaning that we [Israel] is aware of what you [Lebanon] has been able to accomplish, but we have not forgotten you. We are here all the time.”The IDF is currently holding its largest drill in close to 20 years, with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army simulating a war with Hezbollah.Lebanese security sources and residents said Israeli jets flew low over the city of Saida on Sunday, causing sonic booms that broke windows and shook buildings, for the first time in years. The IDF had no comment.In addition to the dozens of ground troops brigades, the army’s cyber units, the navy and air force are also taking part in the drill. The air force will be practicing bombing runs and close air support, as well as supplying troops in the field with intelligence.According to the IDF, the drill is unique and unprecedented in scope and will enable the army to maintain a high level of readiness in an ever-changing region.Al-Akhbar also quoted Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, as saying the maneuvers were not viewed by the group as “preparation for war, but we are ready for any war.” IDF assessments state that while it is unlikely that Hezbollah would attack Israel in the near future, the northern border remains the most explosive, and both sides have warned that the next conflict between the two would be devastating.
In August, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also belongs to the security cabinet, cautioned that all of Lebanon would be hit if Hezbollah were to shoot at Israel.“Israel’s interest is to prevent another confrontation in Lebanon, and so our new strategy is simple: Lebanon equals Hezbollah, Hezbollah equals Lebanon,” Bennett said. “Unlike the Second Lebanon War, this time we won’t differentiate between the organization and the State of Lebanon. This means any attack by Hezbollah will cause destruction throughout Lebanon and its institutions.”A brigade commander in the Artillery Corps taking part in the exercise told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that although the Lebanese Armed Forces is not Israel’s “main enemy,” as long as it is connected to Hezbollah, the IDF is prepared to deal with it.“The IDF knows all targets and positions of the Lebanese Army,” he told the Post close to the border area with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. “The army is prepared to fight the Lebanese Army as an enemy.”In August the Lebanese Army carried out an offensive against Islamic State forces on its northeast border with Syria near the town of Ras Baalbek, while Hezbollah assaulted them from the Qalamoun region of the Syrian side.While the Lebanese Army said that it was not coordinating with Syria or Hezbollah, according to the Al-Akhbar report Qassem stated that “it is true that there is no joint operations room with the army, but coordination has achieved what needs to be achieved in the war against terrorism.”In 2006 Israel fought against Hezbollah in the 34-day Second Lebanon War. Since then, hostilities have been limited to occasional firing across the border and air strikes by Israel against Hezbollah leaders and military equipment in Syria, where the group is fighting in support of President Bashar Assad. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said he would file a complaint to the United Nations against Israel for violating the country’s airspace on Sunday.“We have started preparing to file a complaint to the Security Council against Israel for flying its planes at low altitude... causing material, moral and sovereign damage,” Bassil said in a tweet.Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said Lebanon would issue its complaint “against Israel for planting spy devices on Lebanese land and continuously breaching” its airspace, his office said.Israeli warplanes regularly enter Lebanon’s airspace, the Lebanese Army says, but rarely fly so low.Reuters contributed to this report.
Hezbollah says future Israel war could draw more fighters than in 2006 (credit: REUTERS)