Israel will hit the Lebanese paramilitary “with unimaginable strength,” the prime minister warned
Hezbollah “will be making the mistake of its life” if it enters the Israel-Hamas war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told troops stationed near the Lebanese border on Sunday. Netanyahu warned that Lebanon would be “devastated” in response.
“If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will long for the Second Lebanon War,” Netanyahu said, referring to the 2006 conflict in which Israel invaded southern Lebanon and pounded Beirut with airstrikes in response to Hezbollah raids into Israel. Some 165 Israelis and more than 1,000 Lebanese were killed in the month-long conflict.
“It will be making the mistake of its life,” Netanyahu continued, according to a transcript seen by Israeli media. “We will strike it with unimaginable strength and the significance to it and to the country of Lebanon will be devastating.”
Israeli and Hezbollah forces have engaged in tit-for-tat exchanges of rocket and artillery fire since the conflict with Hamas broke out two weeks ago. While the Lebanese paramilitary group has sent drones and a number of infiltrators across the border, no large-scale incursion has taken place, and Israel has thus far avoided opening a second front in the north.
The Lebanese militia has stepped up its attacks in recent days, however, firing dozens of rockets at Israeli military bases and killing an Israeli soldier in a missile attack on Friday. Israeli forces have responded with artillery bombardments and drone strikes. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant proclaimed on Saturday that Hezbollah “has decided to participate in the fighting” and would pay “a heavy price” for doing so.
Behind the scenes, however, the US is warning Israel against getting drawn into a war on two fronts, the New York Times reported on Friday. According to the paper’s sources, American officials view Gallant as a Hezbollah hawk, whose actions risk dragging Israel into a war that it would struggle to win.
Furthermore, with the US backing Israel and Iran backing Hezbollah, such a war could easily spiral into a wider and more destructive conflict, the sources said.
Hezbollah is currently “in the heart of the battle” between Israel and Hamas, the group’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, said on Sunday. Qassem explained that Hezbollah’s objective at the moment is to “weaken the Israeli enemy and let them know that we are ready” for a possible major escalation.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from settlements near the Lebanese border. Residents of 14 communities have been ordered to leave for temporary accommodation since Saturday morning, while 28 other settlements were emptied last week.