Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday that “Hezbollah is playing with fire,” after the Israeli army said it had foiled an attempt by the Lebanese organization to infiltrate Israel. Hezbollah has denied the Israeli account.
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“Any attack against us will be answered with great force,” Netanyahu said at a press briefing at the army headquarters in Tel Aviv, alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
“Israel is as determined as ever to prevent any harm to its sovereignty, soldiers and civilians,” Gantz said. “Lebanon and Syria are sovereign states and carry full responsibility for any terrorism activity that may occur in their area.”
"Nasrallah is getting Lebanon in trouble because of Iran," Netanyahu said. "He already made a big mistake in underestimating Israel's determination to defend itself, and the Lebanese state has paid a heavy price for that. I suggest he does not repeat this mistake."
The prime minister insisted that "Israel will continue to act against Iran's attempts to establish a military base in the region."
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Despite the coronavirus crisis, which has contributed to throw both Netanyahu and Gantz into domestic political trouble, Iran remains at the forefront of the strategic conversation in Israel. Gantz emphasized “the need to continue the pressure on Iran and its proxies” on Friday during an unannounced visit by the U.S. military Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said earlier on Monday that about five Hezbollah operatives had crossed several meters into Israel but fled back into Lebanon after Israeli forces opened fire, near the Har Dov area in the Golan Heights.
Zilberman said their condition was unknown and confirmed no Israeli soldiers had been hurt.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen satellite television channel reported that Hezbollah had targeted an Israeli vehicle with a Kornet guided missile. The IDF only referred to it as a "security incident."
Lebanese media later reported that Israeli forces had attacked near Kfarchouba on the Lebanese side of the border, north of Har Dov.
Hezbollah in a statement said its forces did not engage in any clashes or open fire. "Everything claimed by the Israeli media and the IDF about a Hezbollah infiltration... is an attempt to invent false Israeli victories," the movement said.
Monday's clash comes after the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group vowed to avenge the death of one of its fighters, who was reportedly killed in an airstrike on pro-Iranian militants in Syria that a war-monitoring group has attributed to Israel.
In its Monday evening statement, Hezbollah said its response the operative's killing "will definitely come," and warned that "Zionists only have to wait for punishment for their crimes." They added that Hezbollah would also respond to reported damage to a civilian house in the Lebanese village of Habbariyeh.