JERUSALEM: Israel said it was poised to impose quiet on the Lebanese front as hostilities spiked on Sunday, with Hezbollah wounding civilians in a cross-border missile attack and the Israeli air force bombing sites linked to the Iranian-backed group.
The chief Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, described Hezbollah as “the defender of Hamas-ISIS”, in reference to the Palestinian faction whose cross-border rampage against Israel on Oct. 7 sparked a devastating Gaza war.
Hezbollah, whose rocket arsenal is widely believed to dwarf that of Hamas, has been carrying out relatively limited attacks in solidarity with the Palestinians. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday described the Israel front as “active”.
But with at least 70 of the group’s fighters, along with several Lebanese civilians, having been killed in Israeli counterstrikes, Hezbollah’s tactics have expanded to include rockets with 300kg-500kg warheads and kamikaze drones.
On Sunday, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a guided missile attack that Israel said wounded at least two electrical company workers sent to carry out repairs at a border community.
A mortar attack wounded seven Israeli soldiers, the military said. A rocket set off sirens near the Israeli port city of Haifa, 27 km (17 miles) from the Lebanese border, but caused no casualties. A Lebanese wing of Hamas took credit for the launch.
Israel said its air force and artillery struck Hezbollah and other targets in Lebanon in response, saying it was holding the group and the Beirut government responsible for all hostilities.
“The IDF (military) is focused on Gaza but we are at a very high state of readiness in the north,” Hagari said. “Lebanon’s citizens will bear the cost of this recklessness, and of Hezbollah’s decision to be the defender of Hamas-ISIS.”
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“The IDF has operational plans for changing the security situation in the north. The security situation will not remain one in which northern residents do not feel secure in returning to their homes,” he said in a televised briefing.
Residents of villages and towns on the Lebanese border have evacuated southward even as Gaza border communities hit by Hamas emptied, making for some 250,000 internally displaced Israelis. Many southern Lebanese have also fled northward for safety.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had appealed to Iran, which backs Hamas as well as Hezbollah, to intervene.
Interviewed on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Guterres said he asked Iran “to tell Hezbollah, ‘You cannot create a situation in which Lebanon will be completely engulfed by this conflict,’ because if Hezbollah will launch a massive attack on Israel it might create, I don’t know what kind of impact, but one thing I am sure – Lebanon would not survive.”
Asked if Iran had been responsive, he said: “I do not know. They said always that they have nothing to do with what is happening but they say publicly that there is a risk of this conflict to be extended. It’s always very mysterious, the position of Iran.”