Israel and Hezbollah clash at border for first time in years

Israeli and Hezbollah forces exchanged fire across the Lebanese border over the weekend, in one of the most intense exchanges between the two foes in years.

The Israeli military said on Sunday it had retaliated against anti-tank missiles that were fired from Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon at an army base and vehicles.

Hezbollah reportedly fired several anti-tank missiles towards Avivim, an Israeli village, while Israeli military fired around 100 artillery shells in response towards the source of the missiles in Maroun al-Ras, a Lebanese village.

An Israeli military vehicle was destroyed, with those inside having been killed or wounded, according to the Iran-backed Hezbollah group which claimed the attack.

Israel’s military sources confirmed a number of strikes but said there were no deaths or injuries, contradicting the Hezbollah claims.

Following the Hezbollah attacks, the army ordered Israelis living near the border to stay indoors.

The missile attacks came after two Hezbollah operatives were killed in Syria and two drones last Sunday attempted to attack a target in Hezbollah’s stronghold of southern Beirut suburb linked to precision-guided missile projects.

Israel has recently become increasingly concerned about the spread of advanced missile technology to Iran’s proxies in the region, notably Hezbollah.

Last week, Israel’s authorities had said they had intelligence that Hezbollah was building guided missiles in Lebanon with the help of Iran, adding that they would not tolerate such a presence of such weaponry.

Analysts say guided missiles, unlike the imprecise rockets which were used in the past by Hezbollah, may allow the group to target vital Israeli infrastructure in the future.

Israeli forces along the frontier have been on alert for a possible confrontation with Hezbollah, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had promised last week to respond to the two Israeli moves.

“The need for a response is decided. It is about establishing the rules of engagement and … the logic of protection for the country,” Nasrallah said.

Following the clashes, both sides have not expressed an interest in a return to war.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has called on international actors to intervene in the volatile situation. He reportedly made telephone calls with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron in that regard.

The incidents have marked the first cross-border clash for years between the two long-time enemies, threatening to drag them into a renewed conflict.

The two have largely refrained from direct fighting since 2016 when a deadly month-long conflict killed around mostly civilian 1,200 people in Lebanon, and nearly 160 in Israel.

Similarly, in January 2015, Hezbollah had fired an anti-tank missile and killed two Israeli soldiers, in response to Israel’s killing of six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general in Syria that same month. In retaliation, Israel shelled the area, killing a UN peacekeeping soldier.

Hezbollah, the pro-Iran Lebanese armed militant group based in Lebanon, has a Shia Islamist political ideology. The group emerged as a military organization after Israel first invaded the country in the 1980s.

Israel sees Iran as an existential threat, acting militarily to curb its influence across the Middle East.

“A new empire has arisen, the goal of which is to defeat us. They dispatch proxies. We are dealing with extremist Islam led by various elements, but in the end, the biggest threat to our existence comes from Iran,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the flare-up on Sunday. 

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