In new round of border tensions, Israel downs Hezbollah drone
JERUSALEM- Israeli forces brought down a drone belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah group that crossed into northern Israel from Lebanon on Tuesday, the Israeli military said.
“Troops downed a drone that crossed from Lebanon into Israeli airspace in the eastern part of the Blue Line,” an army statement said, referring to the UN-demarcated border.
“The drone was monitored by the IDF throughout the incident,” it added, using the acronym for the Israeli Defence Forces.
In the statement, the military said that earlier in the day troops had located another Hezbollah drone that also had been downed along the border with Lebanon several weeks ago.
The statement did not say what means were used to bring the two drones down.
“We will continue to operate in order to prevent any attempt to violate Israeli sovereignty,” the statement said.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanon or Hezbollah.
Earlier last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group that it will suffer “heavy consequences” if it acts against Israel.
Touring the IDF’s Northern Command with senior military commanders, Gantz said the Israel Defense Forces “is ideally prepared along the northern border and definitely on the Lebanese front.”
“We are aware of Hezbollah’s attempts to challenge us in new ways,” he said, without elaborating on the new tactics. “We will deal with any threat. If Hezbollah challenges the IDF and the State of Israel, it will suffer very, very heavy consequences and I hope they don’t do that.”
Israel has acknowledged several incidents in recent years in which its own drones have been lost during missions along the Lebanese frontier, with Iranian-backed Hezbollah claiming to have shot them down.
Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, is the dominant presence in Lebanon’s south near the border with Israel. The militant group has vowed to bring down Israeli drones breaching Lebanese airspace.
In last February, an Israeli intelligence report predicted that Iran will seek to project strength as it pursues a return to the 2015 nuclear accord by using its “proxies” in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, to sow unrest.
Israel has been a vocal and consistent critic of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between world powers and Iran, which placed curbs and checks on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic incentives.
The intelligence assessment also warned that Shia Iran and its allies, notably the Lebanese group Hezbollah, were continuing to threaten Israel along its northern border.
The Israeli army has repeatedly warned of attempted cross-border attacks by Iran-backed fighters in Syria, from Hezbollah and other groups and responded with air strikes on Syrian territory.
Enemy groups operating along Israel’s northern border continue to be deterred by the prospect of a war with Israel, a senior Israeli military commander said at the time on condition of anonymity.
“But the ‘deterrence deficit’ within the Shia Axis requires a response and may undermine the stability in the northern arena,” the military official added, referring to the possible consequences of Israeli military action in the region.
Israel considers Hezbollah to be its toughest and most immediate threat. Israeli officials estimate that Hezbollah possesses some 130,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel. The group has also gained valuable battlefield experience by fighting alongside Iranian troops backing the forces of President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war.
Hezbollah has come under pressure at home from its rivals, who blame it for aggravating the country’s severe economic crisis through its military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Its close ties with Iran and military involvement across the region have alienated oil-rich Arab countries and other potential donors.