IDF strikes Lebanon after anti-tank missile hits near Ghajar border town

The rocket comes amid tensions on Hezbollah posts in Israeli territory and a new fence around a village split by the Blue Line.

 Smoke rises in Kfarshouba, as seen from the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 6, 2023.  (photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
Smoke rises in Kfarshouba, as seen from the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 6, 2023.
(photo credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

The IDF struck sites in Lebanon after an anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon toward the village of Ghajar, which is split by the Blue Line with half in Israel and half in Lebanon, on Thursday, amid heightened tensions along the northern border in recent weeks.

An additional explosion was reported by Lebanese sources near the Bastra farm in the Shebaa Farms area north of the Golan Heights, although the nature of that explosion is as of yet unclear. No party has claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

The IDF is still unsure whether Hezbollah fired the missile or a Palestinian group or some other actor and is investigating the issue.

The Lebanese L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper cited a "high-ranking source within the Lebanese Army" as saying that a Palestinian group was behind the missile fire, adding that the Lebanese Army deployed in the area to prevent further fire.

In response to the missile fire, the IDF launched artillery strikes on sites near the towns of Kfarchouba and Halta. Over 15 shells were fired by the IDF toward southern Lebanon, according to Lebanon's National News Agency.

 UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) vehicles drive in the Lebanese village of Wazzani near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, July 6, 2023.  (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)
UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) vehicles drive in the Lebanese village of Wazzani near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, July 6, 2023. (credit: AZIZ TAHER/REUTERS)

IDF sources said that initially they believed the explosions that were reported around the Lebanon border had occurred on the Lebanese side of the border.

The IDF then had the missile inspected to determine what kind of weaponry it was and to determine who could have fired it. Their inspection was also aimed at gleaning whether or not the missile was fired intentionally.

By the time the IDF counterattacked, it had determined that the missile was indeed fired into Israeli territory intentionally and Israeli forces had figured out where the missile was fired from.

The last time rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel was in April, when three Israelis were injured and a number of buildings were damaged as the result of a 34-rocket barrage. 

Netanyahu set to convene Security Cabinet for first time in months

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to convene the Security Cabinet for the first time in two months in light of the tensions on multiple fronts, between the major raid in Jenin and the exchange of fire with Lebanon.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stressed that Israel would respond to any violation of the country's sovereignty "at the place and time we choose, in overt and covert ways, that will exact a clear price from those responsible for it."

Gallant made the comments during a memorial ceremony for soldiers from the South Lebanon Army near Metula.

"We all look at what is happening in Lebanon, your homeland, and our hearts sink," said Gallant. "The stranglehold of Hezbollah and Iran, who are fueling terrorism in our region, is unrelenting and drags the country and its citizens into a continuous reality of poverty and crisis."

"We all carry a prayer for different days, for days when we find on the other side of the border a hand extended for peace and a life of good neighborliness," added the defense minister. "Until we have days like this, the IDF maintains a high level of readiness and competence, and will continue to act against Iran and Hezbollah's attempts to strengthen in the northern arena. As I said, our faces are extended to peace, but if we need it against our enemy, our sword is in our hands."

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati followed up on the situation with the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Gen. Joseph Aoun and later held a meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka, and the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Aroldo Lázaro.

UNIFIL stated on Thursday afternoon that Lázaro was in contact with authorities in both Lebanon and Israel, adding that "our liaison mechanisms have been fully engaged to prevent further escalation."

"This incident comes at a sensitive time and in an area that has already experienced tensions earlier this week. We urge everyone to exercise restraint and avoid any action that could cause further escalation," said UNIFIL.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry condemned the IDF's response to the missile fire, calling it a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that brought an end to the Second Lebanon War and claiming that Israel was conducting violations of Lebanese sovereignty "at an escalating pace recently."

Rocket fire comes amid tensions surrounding Hezbollah posts, Ghajar, border scuffles

The missile fire from Lebanon comes just weeks after it was revealed that Hezbollah had set up tents in Israeli territory with armed personnel present in the tents.

Israeli officials have been working with UNIFIL to convince Hezbollah to withdraw. Last week, Israel media reported that one of the tents had been moved back into Lebanese territory, although L'Orient-Le Jour later cited sources in Hezbollah as denying that any of the tents had been moved.

Additionally, in recent weeks, the IDF and Lebanese citizens have clashed at various points along the Lebanese border while the IDF carried out maintenance work near the technical fence.

On Wednesday, the IDF fired shots in the air after Lebanese citizens disrupted work along the Lebanese border. In total, at least three incidents of Lebanese citizens and IDF soldiers scuffling were reported along the border in Meiss El Jabal, Markaba, and Hunin.

UNIFIL stated that in at least one of the incidents, an IDF excavator breached the Blue Line.

In recent days, Lebanese officials expressed outrage after Israel set up a fence around Ghajar, where one of the rockets fired on Thursday landed near, accusing Israel of violating UNSC Resolution 1701.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry recently claimed that Israel was blocking Lebanese citizens from entering Ghajar and was attempting to annex it, calling on the international community to intervene. The ministry stressed that it held Israel responsible for "any escalation that may occur as a result of these serious breaches of stability and the status quo."

On Thursday morning, shortly before the rocket fire toward Israel, Hezbollah claimed that Israel was conducting "dangerous measures" in Ghajar and implementing a "complete occupation" of the village. Hezbollah stressed that "this is not just a routine breach of what the occupation forces are accustomed to from time to time."

The missile fire also came after Israel concluded one of its largest military operations in years in the West Bank in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.

Lahav Harkov and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.