An Israeli army patrol came under anti-tank fire from Hezbollah operatives Wednesday in the northern Mount Dov region along the border with Lebanon. The IDF confirmed that there were casualties in the attack, but did not say how many soldiers were hurt. The army ruled out the possibility that a soldier had been kidnapped.
The incident took place in an area of the border that doesn’t have a fence. At the same time, and for over an hour after the attack, IDF positions in the area, as well as on nearby Mount Hermon, were hit with mortar shells.Israel responded to the attack with artillery strikes in southern Lebanon. Two Lebanese officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel targeted the border villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba with at least 50 shells. A Spanish United Nations peacekeeper was killed, Lebanese reports said. Families living on the border of the villages fled further within, fearing they’d be hit, said the officials, who are based in south Lebanon.
Hezbollah said in a statement that a squad from the “fallen martyrs of the Quneitra brigade” had attacked the Israeli convoy in retaliation for an alleged Israeli airstrike near Quneitra, just over the border in Syria, last week that killed 12, including an Iranian general and a senior commander in the organization. The statement said it was a “first announcement,” alluding to the possibility of further attacks.
Six soldiers were evacuated to Ziv Hospital in nearby Safed in light to moderate condition, and other wounded were airlifted to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Channel 2 reported.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was holding high-level consultations to mull further responses to the attack. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a tour of the Gaza Strip border region and headed to the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv to join the meeting.The attack, launched from an area controlled by Hezbollah, comes after repeated threats by the group, which said it would retaliate against Israel for an airstrike earlier in January that killed its top commander in the Syrian Golan Heights, along with an Iranian general and 10 others.
At least two rockets launched from Syrian territory landed in the Golan Heights Tuesday in an attack that Israeli defense officials attributed to Hezbollah. In response, Israel shelled Syrian army positions, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issued a stern warning to Hezbollah and its patron Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The Assad regime is responsible for the fire into Israel, and we will exact a heavy price from any government or organization that violates our borders,” Ya’alon said Wednesday. “We have no intention of ignoring or abiding terrorist attacks on our soldiers and citizens.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Israel’s opponents in the north to take the summer war with Gaza as an example of the magnitude of IDF retaliation for Wednesday attack, which saw Hezbollah forces wound four IDF soldiers in an attack on northern Israel.
“At this moment, the IDF is responding to events in the north. To everyone who is trying to challenge us at the northern border, I recommend for them look what happened there, not far from the city of Sderot, in Gaza. Hamas took its hardest hit since its formation and the IDF is prepared to act strongly on all fronts,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony in the southern city of Sderot.
Four IDF soldiers were wounded along Israel's border with Lebanon Wednesday noon after Hezbollah fire hit Israel. Meanwhile, residents of the north were told to stay indoors.
Mortars later hit Mt. Hermon in an attack which Hezbollah says is a response to the IDF's attack in Syria, which in turn was also a response to rockets fired by Hezbollah at Israel from Syria on Tuesday.
"We will not tolerate any firing towards Israeli territory or violation of our sovereignty and we will respond forcefully and with determination," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said in a statement after IAF warplanes attacked Syrian military targets shortly after midnight on Wednesday.
It may be too soon to point to a new, cohesive Hezbollah strategy along Israel’s northern border. And yet, repeated rocket fire at Israeli targets in the Golan Heights Tuesday prompts speculation that the Shiite terror group and its ally, the Syrian regime, are seeking to draw Israel into a ground offensive.
In the aftermath of the killing of Hezbollah commander Jihad Mughniyeh and Iranian general Mohammad Ali Allahdadi (along with 10 others) in an alleged Israeli airstrike, prevailing wisdom was that Hezbollah, bent on revenge, would try to launch a major campaign against Israel, if not along the border than by attacking Jewish targets abroad.
But it may well be that the Lebanese organization is initiating a different campaign, one that would be somewhat surprising, although it would not necessarily preclude hits on Israeli targets or Jewish targets outside Israel: the repeated shelling of Israeli communities from the Syrian Golan Heights with the aim of drawing in Israeli ground forces.
Indeed, although it seems counterintuitive, there may be some in Hezbollah who hope to see Israeli tanks entering Syrian territory and hitting Syrian military targets.
The next stage, as far as Hezbollah is concerned, could be to try to further upset the security situation by firing rockets sporadically into the Israeli Golan Heights, in a manner that may force the IDF to send troops deep into Syrian territory.
Furthermore, if Hezbollah manages to draw Israel into committing even a small number of troops to a ground incursion in the Syrian Golan Heights, the Sunni radical groups Islamic State and al Nusra Front will be in the problematic position of being portrayed as collaborators with Israel in its battle against the Assad regime and its Lebanese ally.
The rockets fired at the Golan Heights constitute a serious challenge for Israel. On the one hand Jerusalem seeks to deter Hezbollah from continuing to disrupt life in the north. On the other, too aggressive a response will prompt Hezbollah to escalate its attacks in a manner that may leave Israel no choice but to deploy ground troops, furthering the goals of Assad and the rest of the Shiite axis.
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