Israel readies troops for potential escalation in Lebanon

On Sunday, Netanyahu said in a television interview that the war in Gaza was entering a new, less intense phase, allowing the military to turn more attention to Lebanon.
Last Updated : 27 June 2024, 04:15 IST

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Israel’s prime minister and president toured northern Israel’s border and met with military commanders there Wednesday, amid escalating tensions with Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and mounting concerns from world leaders that a wider war could break out.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, posted a video on social media during his visit of him saying that Israeli forces were “determined and committed to the mission of achieving victory, and no less.”

The tours by Israeli officials along the border with Lebanon came as Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, concluded four days of meetings in Washington with senior Biden administration officials, who repeatedly stressed the need for a diplomatic solution to tensions with Hezbollah. The Iran-backed militia has been targeting Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack set off a war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Tensions have flared in recent weeks.

“Hezbollah’s provocations threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that they do not want,” Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defense, said in a meeting with Gallant on Tuesday. Austin added that “such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon, and it would be devastating for innocent Israeli and Lebanese civilians.”

Gallant, in that same meeting, said Israel was working to “achieve an agreement.” But he added that Israel was “determined to establish security” in the north and change “the reality on the ground.”

“We must also discuss readiness for every possible scenario,” Gallant said.

Israeli news media reported Wednesday that more troops were being sent to the northern border region. On Sunday, Netanyahu said in a television interview that the war in Gaza was entering a new, less intense phase, allowing the military to turn more attention to Lebanon. “We will be able to move part of our forces to the north,” he said.

On Wednesday, Herzl Halevi, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, also visited the northern border with Lebanon and held a “situational assessment” with local commanders, according to a statement from the Israeli military.

Israeli troops in the north Wednesday trained for what the military called “extreme scenarios,” including “combat in complex and mountainous terrain, activating fire and urban warfare.” The exercise was conducted “as part of increasing readiness in the northern arena,” the military said.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that its fighter jets struck a Hezbollah military structure and targeted several other sites in southern Lebanon.

Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, addressed community leaders in northern Israel during his two-day visit to the region and said the international community should not be surprised if “the situation spirals out of control.” He accused Hezbollah in Lebanon of repeated violations of treaties and international agreements.

Last week, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said the Lebanese militia did not want a wider conflict but was prepared for war. “We have prepared ourselves for the most difficult days,” Nasrallah said. He added: “If war is imposed, the resistance will fight without constraints, rules or limits.”

Both sides have sought to keep the cycle of strikes and counterstrikes from spiraling, but the rhetoric from leaders and frequency of attacks have ratcheted up in recent weeks. Civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed, and more than 150,000 people have been forced from their homes along the border since the latest conflict between Israel and Hezbollah began.

Published 27 June 2024, 04:15 IST

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