Hezbollah Fires Rockets at Israel as Risk of Escalation Looms
JERUSALEM – Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Lebanese organization, on Friday claimed responsibility for a volley of rockets over Israel’s northern border, the latest in a series of cross-border attacks that risk exacerbating regional tensions.
The salvo was significantly larger than previous rocket launches from Lebanon in recent weeks, and the first to be directly claimed by Hezbollah in many years. On Friday afternoon, Israel’s political and security leaders were holding consultations on how to respond.
Amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran, Hezbollah and the IDF have indicated that neither want a dramatic or imminent escalation and appear to be trying to defuse the situation. But the IDF also said it would not allow attacks to continue unimpeded along the border.
“We do not wish to degenerate into all-out war, but we are very prepared for it,” said Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, spokesman for the IDF, less than three hours after the attack.
The IDF said 19 rockets were fired from Lebanon, three of which failed in Lebanese territory. Ten more were intercepted by the Israeli air defense system while the rest landed in open areas.
There were no casualties or damage, and the military said it responded to rocket launch sites in Lebanon, in what appeared to be a contained initial response.
The IDF said civilian life along the border could continue as long as normal and tourist attractions remained open. The move signaled an expectation that no further major action was imminent at a time when many Israelis are on vacation in the north of the country.
Hezbollah also reported that its rocket salute was not intended to upset the current balance, noting in a statement that two of its brigades had fired “dozens” of rockets at “open ground” near Israeli sites. in the disputed area of Shebaa Farms.
The Shebaa Farms – known in Israel as Mount Dov – are a strip claimed by Israel, Lebanon, and sometimes Syria near the Three Nations Intersection, adjacent to the Golan Heights.
The group said its rockets were a response to Israeli airstrikes on Thursday that also hit “open lands” in southern Lebanon. The airstrikes were also the first to be carried out by Israel on Lebanese territory for many years.
The strikes came after militants fired rockets at Israel on Wednesday for the second time in two weeks. The latest rocket attacks from Lebanon have been attributed to rogue Palestinian groups.
Colonel Shefler, the Israeli military spokesman, said Hezbollah’s claim of responsibility on Friday was likely intended to show that the organization still controls the southern Lebanese border area and that Israeli airstrikes would not go unanswered.
Hezbollah, which waged a devastating month-long war with Israel in 2006, also has an account opened with Israel to avenge the murder of one of its agents a year ago in a strike in Syria attributed to Israel. .
As far as Hezbollah is concerned, killing the agent was a violation of the unwritten rules of its engagement with Israel, according to which Israel kills Iranians or Syrians, but only harms Hezbollah’s equipment, not its people. .
Friday’s events were the latest in a long shadow war waged by Israel, Iran and its proxies by land, air and sea, which has increasingly flared up in the open.
Zvika Haimovich, a retired Israeli general and former commander of the Israel Defense Forces, said Hezbollah and Israel were trying to act according to the formula established in recent years and that it was in Israel’s interest to keep its border with Lebanon calm and “keep Lebanon out of the game.”
But given what he described as advancing Hezbollah’s Iran-backed program to develop precise missiles in Lebanon, Haimovich added, “We are close to a point where Israel will have to act against it. Hezbollah in Lebanon ”, and that the events of the last few days have brought this point even closer.
Tensions between Israel and Iran’s allies have been further exacerbated by expectations that Israel may soon respond to an attack last week on an Israel-linked merchant ship in the Indian Ocean. Israel blamed Iran for the attack and called for a greater international response as two foreign nationals, a Romanian officer and a British security guard, were killed on board.
Significant preparations are underway for an Israeli military response against Iran for the attack on the ship, according to three Israeli officials with knowledge of the decision-making process on national security issues and who have asked not to be named during discussions on issues. sensitive operational matters.
Preparations intensified after rockets were fired from Lebanon on Wednesday, which, according to Israeli military intelligence, could not have happened without the consent, or at least the closing of its eyes by Hezbollah, which would normally coordinate. such an attack with Iran.
Officials say Israel sees the attacks as an attempt by Iran to establish new unwritten rules for engagement with Israel.
Ben hubbard contributed to Beirut reporting.
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