UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel was ready for any eventuality after a cross-border clash with Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla group, but both sides appeared eager to avoid another war.
The Israeli army said anti-tank rockets were fired from Lebanon towards a military base and vehicles and that it responded by firing at targets in southern Lebanon. This came after a week of rising tensions raised fears of a new war with Hezbollah.
The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed an Israeli military vehicle near the border on Sunday, killing and wounding those inside. The Israeli army said there were no casualties.
Netanyahu, whose war in the north of his country was set to hold his campaign for a new mandate less than three weeks before the polls, was keen to keep everything as normal after clashes erupted on the border with Lebanon.
The Israeli prime minister continued his regular agenda and commented only on the security situation, in Hebrew only, at the start of a meeting with the visiting president of Honduras and declined to receive questions from journalists.
“We were attacked with some anti-tank missiles,” Netanyahu said. The response included 100 shells, aerial bombardment and multiple actions. We are consulting on the next step. ”
“I have been instructed to prepare for any eventuality,” he said. “We will determine the next move based on the development of events.”
“I can make an important announcement. We have no victims, no casualties, not even a scratch.”
“Calm returned to the area” on Sunday evening, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said, urging both sides to “exercise maximum restraint to prevent any escalation of the situation”.
The two sides fought a month-long war in 2006 after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
Israel has been on alert for a possible confrontation with Hizbollah for the past week after two drones crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs and one of them exploded. Security officials in the area described the target as linked to projects to produce precision-guided missiles.
A new war between Hezbollah and Israel would increase the risk of a wider Middle East conflict. Iran has resisted US attempts to force it to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
At the same time, Israel is concerned about the growing regional influence of Iran and its armed groups, such as Hezbollah, in countries such as Syria.
In Iraq, powerful Shi’ite armed groups backed by Iran have blamed the United States and Israel for recent explosions in their armories.
Hizbollah said Sunday’s operation was carried out by the group of martyrs Hassan Zbib and Yasser Daher, who were killed in an Israeli air strike inside Syria last week.
An Iranian security official was quoted as saying that Sunday’s Hezbollah attack was a “reciprocal response”.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said late on Saturday his commanders were ready to respond to last week’s drone attack, which he blamed on Israel. But like Netanyahu, Nasrallah has not indicated that Hezbollah is seeking an all-out war.
Under threats from Hezbollah, Israel sent additional troops near the border, which has remained largely calm since the last month-long war in 2006.
The Israeli army, without claiming responsibility for last week’s drone attack, released what it described as details of an expanded Iranian-sponsored campaign to provide Hezbollah with means to produce precision-guided missiles.
Such rockets, for which the group has acknowledged possession, could create a balance against Israel’s overwhelming military might in any future war because of its ability to identify, strike and destroy key infrastructure sites.
Nasrallah denied that Hezbollah had factories to produce those rockets. “We have enough precision missiles and we do not have precision missiles,” he said.
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