IDF thwarts Hezbollah terror cell infiltration along border with Lebanon

Hezbollah cell infiltrated several meters into Israel before being engaged by soldiers • Netanyahu: Hezbollah is playing with fire, Lebanon will be held responsible

Smoke rises from the disputed Shebaa Farms area as seen from Marjayoun village in southern Lebanon, Lebanon July 27, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/KARAMALLAH DAHER)
Smoke rises from the disputed Shebaa Farms area as seen from Marjayoun village in southern Lebanon, Lebanon July 27, 2020.
Tensions remain high in the North after the IDF thwarted a Hezbollah terrorist attack Monday afternoon near Mount Dov along the border with Lebanon. The defense establishment is concerned Hezbollah might still carry out an attack against the military.
A Hezbollah cell, which numbered between three and five operatives, crossed the border, also known as the Blue Line, several meters into sovereign Israeli territory and was identified by the IDF, which opened fire on them with machine guns and tank shells.
The cell fled back into Lebanon without firing at the soldiers, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said, denying reports that anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) were fired during the incident.
“We have some tense days ahead,” he said.
While the condition of the Hezbollah cell members was unclear, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen news outlet reported that no Hezbollah fighters were killed during the failed attack. The soldiers were unharmed, the IDF said.
Hezbollah later released a statement saying there had been no clash along the border, and soldiers had fired on empty fields, making up the entire incident due to their “extreme fear” over a Hezbollah retaliation.
“The Islamic Resistance confirms no clash or exchange of fire occurred on its end during today’s incidents until this moment,” Hezbollah said in a statement. “Instead, all came from one side, that of the fearful, worried and nervous Israeli enemy.”
Hezbollah said its response to the death of its member in Syria was “definitely coming” and that the damage of one of the houses in the village of Al-Habariyah “will not pass quietly.”
In a press conference Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any attack from Hezbollah would be met with a strong response by the Israeli military.
“Hezbollah has to know it’s playing with fire,” he said. “Any attack will be met with great force. [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah is greatly mistaken about Israel’s determination to defend itself, and Lebanon has paid a heavy price for this mistake.”
Israel will hold Hezbollah and Lebanon responsible for any attacks from Lebanon into Israel, Netanyahu said. Hezbollah is doing Iran’s bidding and harming Lebanon, he said.
Sitting next to him, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the soldiers prevented a more serious attack that could have claimed lives.
“Lebanon and Syria are sovereign states and will bear the painful responsibility for any terrorist act that takes place from their territory,” he said. “Anyone who dares to test the power of the IDF will endanger himself and the country from which he operates. Any action against the State of Israel will lead to a powerful, sharp and painful response.”
Earlier in the afternoon, there had been unconfirmed reports of an exchange of fire along the border. Photos released by Hezbollah-affiliated reporters on Twitter showed plumes of smoke near Kfarchouba in southern Lebanon near the Mount Dov area after reports of the IDF firing shells toward the area.
UN Interim Force in Lebanon Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col contacted Israeli and Lebanese forces during the incident in an attempt to restore calm.
According to various Lebanese media reports, a Hezbollah cell fired ATGMs toward an IDF vehicle near the southern Shaba Farms area, and the IDF responded by shelling Lebanese territory.
During the incident, residents of northern Israeli communities bordering the Lebanese border were instructed by the IDF to remain in their homes and that nonessential car travel “should be avoided.” But after about an hour of clashes, Home Front Command said residents could “return to normal.”
Lebanese media also reported that residents close to the Israeli border could return to their daily routine as the smoke cleared.
Nevertheless, Zilberman said the military considers the event to be ongoing, with the possibility of additional attacks.
More than a dozen communities, including Avivim, Hagoshrim, Zarit, Hanit, Yiftah, Kfar Giladi, Misgav Am, Metulla, Neveh Ativ, Kiryat Shmona, Rosh Hanikra, Shlomi and Shetula, were affected after the security incident in the area of Mount Dov was reported.
Netanyahu and Gantz left the Knesset, where they had been holding faction meetings, and headed to the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv to oversee the operations.
MOMENTS BEFORE the incident began, Netanyahu warned that Lebanon and Hezbollah would be responsible for any attack against Israel.
“Our policy is clear,” he said during the Likud faction meeting. “First, we will not allow Iran to entrench militarily on our border with Syria. This is the policy that I set years ago; we uphold it consistently. Second, Lebanon and Hezbollah will bear the responsibility for any attack against us emanating from Lebanese territory.”
Netanyahu made the comments as tensions remain high along Israel’s northern border, with the IDF concerned of a potential Hezbollah attack against military targets, either by sniper or anti-tank guided missiles.
“The IDF is prepared for any scenario,” he said. “We are active in all arenas for the security of Israel – both close to our borders and far from them. We are constantly monitoring what is happening on our northern border. When I say ‘we,’ that means myself, the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff – all of us together.”
Netanyahu cut short the Likud faction meeting and left Jerusalem for the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv to hold a security assessment.
“We are in the midst of a serious security event,” he said.
Gantz, who also left the Knesset for the security assessment with Netanyahu and other senior defense officials, warned before the incident that “no enemy test us.”
Speaking at the beginning of the Blue and White faction meeting, he said: “Whoever does so will discover a determined and alert military that is ready to protect the citizens of Israel and its sovereignty.”
“I reiterate: The responsibility lies with the State of Syria and the State of Lebanon for any action that is taken from their territory,” he added.
Iran and its proxies continue to “try to establish an Iranian choke hold” along Israel’s northern border, but the IDF and security forces will “continue to act against Iran, the smuggling of weaponry and against the precision-missile project,” Gantz said.
He spoke with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi – who has been in Safed at Northern Command headquarters for the past three days – regarding the incident in the North and was updated on the situation. Gantz also spoke with the heads of communities on the Israeli-Lebanon confrontation line, led by Mateh Asher Regional Council chairman Moshe Davidovich.
The IDF has been on high alert since an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week killed a Hezbollah fighter.
Following a situational assessment on Friday, and in accordance with Northern Command’s defense plan, the military said it deployed additional soldiers to Division 91 and the 210 Bashan Division, along with artillery and field intelligence troops “with the goal of strengthening defenses along the northern border.”
Iron Dome missile-defense batteries were also on alert, as well as IAF jets.