Hezbollah Got Dangerously Close to IDF Troops, and Israel Is Wary of Another Attempted Attack

Military plans aggressive response if the Lebanese group tries to strike again after failing on Monday to inflict casualties on IDF troops

Amos Harel
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IDF soldiers work on tanks near the border with Lebanon, July 28, 2020.
IDF soldiers work on tanks near the border with Lebanon, July 28, 2020.Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
Amos Harel

The military again reinforced its deployment along the Lebanese border on Tuesday, based on intelligence assessments that Hezbollah would again attempt a reprisal attack as retaliation against the death of one of its combatants in an airstrike in Damascus last week.

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In a debriefing of the incident at Har Dov on Monday, it appeared that a Hezbollah cell had reached a distance of 50 meters from an Israel Defense Forces position but fled as soon as it was fired on. There were no casualties.

Defense officials stressed on Tuesday that tensions remain high in the north and that there is significant likelihood that Hezbollah will try acting again in the coming weeks. This has led to an increased level of alertness. Tuesday’s reinforcement, the second in two days, included special units, as well as intelligence and artillery units. There were reports on Tuesday of suspicious people near the border fence, in the western Galilee. IDF forces were dispatched to the area, but it was later announced that there had been no infiltration from across the border.

In Monday’s incident, three or four Hezbollah fighters crossed the border from Lebanon, in a mountainous area with dense growth that has no fence. The squad was identified, allowing IDF observers to track their movement. The Hezbolalh operatives managed to advance 200 meters into the Israeli side of the border, up to a hill situated only 50 meters from the gate to the IDF’s Gladiola outpost.

Smoke billows following a Hezbollah attempt at attacking IDF troops, July 27, 2020.
Smoke billows following a Hezbollah attempt at attacking IDF troops, July 27, 2020.Credit: Gil Eliahu

At this point, warning shots were fired at them. The General Staff and Northern Command had both prepared for such an eventuality, and forces were instructed to take a risk and not shoot to kill. Warning shots and tank fire landed near the operatives. To the surprise of commanders in the area, the Hezbollah fighters turned around and fled the area without returning fire. In contrast to Hezbollah doctrine under such circumstances, no supporting mortar or rocket fire was directed at IDF forces in an attempt to supply cover for the retreating force.

An analysis of the incident had led the IDF to believe that Hezbollah’s intention was to come close to the position and direct sniper fire or fire a short-range anti-tank missile at the IDF position, with the goal of inflicting casualties. This is in line with earlier assessments of Hezbollah’s intention to settle scores in a limited operation following the death of a Hezbollah operative in an airstrike, attributed by the group to Israel, on the Damascus airport on July 21, without dragging the region into a potential war.

However, the fact that the Hezbollah fighters did not open fire and failed to exact a price from Israel, immediately fleeing the area, complicates things for Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. It appears that there is great pressure on him to retaliate and stand by his commitment to maintain a balance of deterrence. The Shi’ite leader warned last year that every time Israel harms his people in Syria, he would react fiercely by firing from Lebanon. On the other hand, Nasrallah has to consider the internal situation in Lebanon, which is in a deep economic and political crisis, for which many Lebanese citizens, mainly the leaders of non-Shi’te communities, blame Hezbollah.

Waiting for another Hezbollah attempt may go on for days, possibly weeks. Israel realizes that there is now a war of nerves between the two sides, with an IDF error in deployment or in movement along the border possibly exposing soldiers to Hezbollah fire. The Lebanese organization could use anti-tank missiles, sniper fire or mortars to achieve its purpose.

The prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff, addressing the situation on Tuesday, warned Hezbollah and the Lebanese government of the expected ramifications if Hezbollah carries out its plans. The IDF is preparing to give a particularly aggressive response if Hezbollah indeed decides to renew fire.

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