Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Despite calm returning to Israeli-Lebanon border, Hezbollah warns more action to come

Hezbollah minister says Iran-backed group has still not responded to the Israeli drone attack on its Beirut stronghold two weeks ago

Spanish UN peacekeepers patrolling along the Lebanese-Israeli border pass a Hezbollah flag in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. AP
Spanish UN peacekeepers patrolling along the Lebanese-Israeli border pass a Hezbollah flag in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. AP

A Hezbollah minister said new strikes against Israel are coming, a week after the group launched a bloodless cross-border retaliation by firing anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military vehicle.

Last Sunday’s attack was a “response to the bombing of a Hezbollah centre in Syria” two weeks ago by Israel, Hezbollah Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mahmoud Qomati, said on Saturday.

Echoing a warning made by the Iran-backed group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah last week, Mr Qomati said that Hezbollah has yet to respond to the drone attack in south Beirut.

“The more the resistance [Hezbollah] is ready, the further away war is,” Mr Qomati said.

Meanwhile late on Sunday evening, a former Hezbollah official was found dead in his flat in a Beirut neighbourhood.

Security forces immediately opened an investigation and were awaiting the arrival of a forensic doctor to determine the cause of death, Lebanon's National News Agency reported.

A Hezbollah official confirmed the death of Ali Hatoum and told Reuters an investigation was under way, but that it did not appear to be security related.

The news agency gave no other information.

On August 24, Israel claimed it had carried out air strikes against Iranian-allied militia forces near the Syrian capital, Damascus, to thwart an Iranian plan to attack Israel with “killer drones”.

The following night, a booby-trapped drone exploded in mid-air near Hezbollah’s media office in Beirut’s southern suburb, damaging the building.

A second drone, which Hezbollah said was also carrying explosives, crashed without exploding.

Lebanon's president, prime minister and Hezbollah accused Israel, which did not officially comment.

But unidentified Israeli sources quoted by British and Israeli media claimed that the drones were supposed to attack sophisticated Iranian equipment used to make precision-guided missiles.

In a speech a few hours after the Israeli attacks, Nasrallah said Israel had killed two of the group’s fighters in the raid near Damascus. He warned Israel that it would “pay the price” for its actions in Lebanon and Syria.

One week later, Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles across Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, damaging vehicles.

Israel responded by firing about 100 artillery shells, including cluster and phosphorous bombs, the Lebanese army said.

A few hours later, calm had returned to the area. No casualties were reported on either side.

In his third speech in little over a week, Nasrallah said on Monday that the group had divided its response to Israel’s attacks in two phases.

The first one, which included Hezbollah’s Sunday attack against the Israeli military, was over.

The second phase will be a “clean” strike against Israeli drones that violate Lebanese airspace.

“We are not in a hurry,” Nasrallah said. The operation was now in the hands of field commanders, he said.

“Internal Lebanese considerations” stopped Hezbollah from shooting down Israeli drones in the past, he said.

But Nasrallah said that there would be no more “red lines”.

He said on August 31 that should Hezbollah “take down each Israeli drone”, it would exhaust the group’s air defence capabilities.

Israel breaches Lebanese airspace with surveillance drones or warplanes nearly every day.

Officials complain to the UN but do not take military action, despite a rare incident on August 28 when a Lebanese soldier opened fire with an assault rifle on a drone, which flew back to Israel.

The Lebanese army does not have the ability to stand up to Israel.

Hezbollah supporters say this is the main reason the group should stay armed to protect the country in the event of an Israeli attack, although its critics believe that the group’s fighters should be integrated into the Lebanese army.

Hezbollah, which also functions as a political party and is represented in the government, is the only Lebanese militia to have kept its weapons at the end of the civil war in 1990.

Updated: September 9, 2019 07:34 AM

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