Heightened tensions along Israel’s northern frontier with Lebanon escalated into an exchange of cross-border hostilities over the weekend, causing extensive damage in both countries.
Iran’s Lebanese-proxy Hezbollah followed through on its vow to launch a retaliatory attack against an Israeli military installation yesterday, which in part involved the firing of several anti-tank missiles by armed militants that struck the Avivim IDF border outpost. Several military vehicles were hit, incurring extensive material damage.
An Israeli Air Force helicopter gunship immediately responded by opening fire in the direction of the attacking Hezbollah operatives, while several IDF artillery batteries deployed along the frontier fired an estimated 100 shells into Lebanon’s Maroun A-Ras region, most of which were reportedly smoke shells.
Initial reports by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar Network claimed a number of IDF soldiers were killed and wounded, when a military vehicle described as an “armored ambulance” sustained a direct hit from an anti-tank missile. The Israeli military had apparently staged a diversionary ploy, however, involving a simultated evacuation of supposedly “injured troops” by helicopter to Rambam Medical Center in the northern city of Haifa, while keeping it classified that no Israeli casualties had in fact been suffered.
The IDF only officially announced that there had been neither Israel casualties after Hezbollah proclaimed its attack had successfully wounded four Israeli soldiers. About an hour later after consultations with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and other IDF generals, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the Jewish State had “responded with 100 shells and firing from the air by various means” after coming under attack by “several anti-tank missiles.” He added, “We are consulting about the next steps,” saying “I have ordered that we be prepared for any scenario.” After saying that “the next steps” will be determined “pending developments,” the Israeli Premier confirmed, ” this time I have an important announcement: We have no casualties – not even a scratch.”
The IDF’s deceptive tactics appear to have prevented a major escalation of the situation in northern Israel. The military’s Northern Command had prepared in the days leading up to the incident for the possibility that a Hezbollah terror attack would demand a severe retaliation, that would have inevitably trigger a counter-response from the Shi’ite milita and an ensuing exchange of force that could draw both sides into an unwanted wide-scale conflagration.
In a videotaped statement, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin stressed, “All those who seek to harm us should know that we are ready and willing to defend Israel’s citizens wherever they are, without hesitation.” The President added, “We also say to them that we are prepared and do not want to show just how well-prepared we are.”
The current assessment in Jerusalem that if Lebanon believes sufficient revenge was attained or that Israel is lying about IDF casualty figures, “it will allow the state of alert to be lowered and to put an end to this incident.” Military analysts caution , however, that “if Lebanon feels that it was once again humiliated ” – this time by Israel’s deceptive maneuver – “Hezbollah may try to attack again, this time using a lower signature, in hope of exacting revenge.”
That said, the IDF insists that it is mobilized and equipped for any development, and that it will continue to thwart Hezbollah from upgrading its vast arsenal of low grade missiles. A senior Israeli defense official told TV7 that Hezbollah has actively been trying to establish a ‘new equation’ to deter Israel from taking any action against its Iranian-led missile project in Lebanon. The official stressed, however, that Israel would continue acting to ensure that Hezbollah will not succeed in constructing facilities for the manufacturing of precision-guided missiles.
Responding to Israel’s allegations, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah claimed “it’s a lie” that his organization possesses factories to produce precision-guided missiles; a premise he claimed was “a pretext Netanyahu is using to attack.” Nasrallah then ambiguously stated, “and I said on many occasions, that we have enough guided missiles for what we need, but not precision-guided missiles factories,” adding “We have as many precision-guided missiles in Lebanon as we need for any confrontation, small or big.”
Hezbollah’s Secretary General made his filmed statement on Saturday – just several hours before his militants were instructed to carry out the cross-border attack against the Jewish State.
Meanwhile on the Israeli side of the border, Upper Galilee Regional Council Chairman Giora Zaltz said that life has returned to normal, and schools would remain open for the new academic year. He emphasized, however, that even though civilians living in the area hope for the full restoration of calm, their resilience will persevere to allow the IDF to act against anyone seeking to harm the Jewish nation.
Israelis living in the village of Avivim, the site of the Hezbollah attack on the IDF outpost, expressed concern over the eruption of a wider-scale escalation, while insisting that past experience of cross-border violence has rendered them prepared to deal with any development. Speaking to Reuters, Avivim resident Itzik Haziza said, “It’s a really hard feeling to return to all these issues. The children are not used to these kinds of things. We (adults) are somewhat used to it.”Another civilian, Rotem Amram, told the news agency “we (are) scared a little bit but we (are) used to it. It happened here a few times. We grew up in this area, so we know how to deal with it.”
On the Lebanese side of the frontier, civilians gathered to watch smoke rising from fires that had been sparked by the Israeli bombardment of the Maroun al-Ras village in the south of the country. Residents of the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim region expressed appreciation of Hezbollah, saying it provided them with pride after the Iranian-back group launched an attack against an Israeli army outpost. Haydar Hussein told Reuters that “We are observing the events that happened. Hezbollah executed a mission and honestly, they made us proud. There’s nothing here as you can see, the people are watching, and everything is good.”