Israeli Army Chief: If Hezbollah Targets Israel, Israel Will Target Lebanon Itself

In a future war on Israel's northern border, the army won't hesitate to strike Lebanese institutions, Chief-of-Staff Eisenkot says.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israel's army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot said on Sunday that in the event of a future military confrontation with Hezbollah, the Israel Defense Forces will not hesitate to strike institutions affiliated with the Lebanese state itself and not only with Hezbollah.

"The recent declarations from Beirut make it clear that in a future war, the targets will be clear: Lebanon and the organizations operating under its authority and its approval," said Eisenkot. He was speaking on Sunday at the change of command ceremony for the GOC Northern Command of the IDF.

The chief of staff's remarks amplified recent statements by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman during a visit to the United States around two weeks ago, according to which Israel is very concerned about the direction taken by the new Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, especially the way he is “turning the Lebanese army into part of the array of forces led by Hezbollah.” Aoun noted, in interviews with Egyptian media outlets around a month ago, that Hezbollah's weapons "are an essential part of defending Lebanon."

Israeli intelligence agencies are monitoring this situation of reciprocal relations between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army. According to a field commander in Israel's Northern Command, however, Hezbollah is more battle-ready than the Lebanese army, as a result of its combat experience in Syria.

Eisenkot also referred to Israeli military activities in the region, saying, "We are acting to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah and will make every effort to prevent it in the future as well."

He added that Hezbollah continues its efforts to obtain more lethal and more precise weaponry whose purpose is to hit the Israeli home front. In February, Eisenkot noted, Hezbollah activity in Syria not only gave the organization's militants significant combat experience but also created a financial crisis and a crisis of morale within Hezbollah.

Eisenkot said that although quiet has prevailed for more than a decade along Israel's northern borders, "The IDF doesn't let the quiet in this sector mislead it, and it closely follows changes in the Lebanon and Syrian sectors."

The chief in staff has noted previously that in addition to its deployment in Lebanon, from the border with Israel to the Litani River, Hezbollah is also deployed in the northern part of the border with Syria.

The remarks of Lieberman and Eisenkot address the dilemma that Israel is expected to face in a future military confrontation with Lebanon: whether or not to target sites that are associated with the Lebanese state. Eisenkot's remarks confirm that in the event of a "third Lebanon war," Lebanese state institutions will not be immune from Israeli strikes.

Shortly after the handover ceremony was completed, Syrian media outlets reported an airstrike targeting an individual that was attributed to the Israel Air Force.

In the handover, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick replaced Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi as the chief of the Northern Command. Kochavi is set to become deputy chief of staff. During the ceremony he said he was proud to serve as the commander of a force that both acts against enemy terror cells and transports wounded civilians from an enemy land to medical treatment in Israel.