IDF braces for Hezbollah retaliation

Troops sent to reinforce Northern Command • Netanyahu warns Hezbollah that IDF is prepared for all scenarios • Lebanon PM: Israel assaulted sovereignty in dangerous military escalation

IDF war games in the north simulating a conflict with Hezbollah (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF war games in the north simulating a conflict with Hezbollah
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The IDF has reinforced Northern Command in anticipation of additional attacks by Hezbollah. An infiltration attempt by a cell belonging to the Lebanese terrorist group failed on Monday.
Following a situational assessment, advanced weapons systems, powerful intelligence-gathering systems and specialized units have been deployed in the North, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said Tuesday.
The reinforcements include precision-fire systems, combat intelligence-gathering units and specialized infantry units, people familiar with the matter said.
Hezbollah should realize Israel will do what it takes to defend itself, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday after a visit to Northern Command headquarters in Safed.
“The IDF is prepared for any scenario,” he said following a meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and others.
The clash was important because it prevented a Hezbollah incursion into Israel, Netanyahu said.
“We will do all that is necessary to defend ourselves,” he said. “I suggest Hezbollah take this simple fact into consideration.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is “serving the Iranian interest at Lebanon’s expense,” Netanyahu said.
“All that is happening at this moment is a result of an attempt by Iran and its outgrowths in Lebanon,” he said. Israel “will continue to thwart Iranian attempts to establish itself in our area.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, “Israel knows how to use its capabilities everywhere.”
“We have the capacity to act at any distance and with unprecedented operational readiness,” he said while on a tour of the F-35 Adir Squadron at Nevatim Air Base in the South, along with IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin. “I suggest that the countries of the region near and far – Iran, Lebanon, Syria and anyone involved in terrorism – remember that the State of Israel has infinite capacity, and we know how to use it.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Israel had “assaulted Lebanon’s sovereignty again” in a “dangerous military escalation.”
Israel is “seeking to amend the tasks of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] and the rules of engagement with us,” he said Tuesday. “I call for caution in the coming days because I fear that things will slip for the worse in light of the severe tension on our borders.”
Diab made his remarks prior to a Higher Defense Council meeting in Beirut’s Baabda Presidential Palace to assess the situation, Lebanon’s Naharnet News reported.
The meeting was chaired by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and attended by Defense Minister Zeina Akar, Foreign Minister Nasif Hitti, Lebanese Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun, General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, other military and security officers and government ministers.
Lebanese media on Tuesday reported heavy Israeli aerial activity across the country, and footage of drones and helicopters was shared on social-media platforms.
The IDF removed restrictions on civilians shortly after the incident ended. But military vehicles were still prohibited from traveling on certain highways and roads along the border that are considered vulnerable to Hezbollah attacks.
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told The Jerusalem Post its commanders have been in touch with both sides to “decrease tension and prevent a misunderstanding.”
“UNIFIL has launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident,” he said. “Our team is already on the ground. The investigation is looking at all the different aspects, and we will be on both sides to look at all details and speak to people who were there.”
Asked whether there was a chance nothing had happened, Tenenti said it was “too early to reach any conclusions.”
On Monday afternoon, a Hezbollah cell, which numbered between three to five operatives, crossed the border, also known as the Blue Line, several meters into sovereign Israeli territory. They were identified by the IDF, which opened fire on them, causing them to flee back into Lebanon without firing. No soldiers were harmed.
Hezbollah later denied a clash had occurred and warned that 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.”
“There are tense and complicated days before us,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman told reporters Monday afternoon following the incident.
In a joint press conference, Netanyahu and Gantz warned Hezbollah against further attacks. Lebanon and Syria would be held responsible for any attacks emanating from their territory, they warned.
“Hezbollah has to know it’s playing with fire,” Netanyahu said. “Any attack will be met with great force.”
Gantz said 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.”
Nevertheless, following the incident, Israel conveyed messages to Lebanon through third parties that it did not want any further escalation with Hezbollah.
Prior to the incident, Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammed Jalal Firouznia met with Lebanon’s grand mufti and “confirmed Iran’s support for Lebanon” and warned against an Israeli strike on Lebanon.
“The Israeli enemy has not forgotten its defeat in the July war [2006],” he was quoted by Lebanon’s MTV News as saying. “If it does such madness, there is no doubt that it will receive a harder blow in return. The axis of the resistance is stronger than ever, and we are convinced that more victories await this axis.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.