BEIRUT: A confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel inched closer Sunday after the Iran-backed group vowed retaliation after an Israeli strike in Syria killed two fighters and a drone attack in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said the drone attack was the first “big breach of the rules of engagement” since the end of the July 2006 war and that it was “very, very, very” dangerous.
“The time when Israel bombs Lebanon is over,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
From now on, “our first response to [Israeli drones] ... will be to bring them down,” because, he warned, “if we keep quiet ... this will lay a dangerous path for Lebanon.”
At around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, an Israeli drone was seen hovering between buildings in the Mouawad neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Local residents, Nasrallah said, began pelting it with rocks as it came within close proximity of buildings. “If this caused it to downing or not, I don’t know,” the Hezbollah leader said. The drone crashed.
But a second drone, coming shortly after, was “clearly on a military suicide mission and a clear aggression.” It exploded next to Hezbollah’s media office. Pictures showed the office wrecked and its glass shattered.
It’s unclear whether the second drone was sent to destroy the first drone, which Nasrallah said was unarmed. Israel has not commented.
A Hezbollah source denied that any of its members had been wounded, but said that three men working in the Al-Ahed News website suffered “very light” injuries.
Nasrallah said that not responding to such an incident would drag Lebanon backward by decades. “We will not allow a repeat [of this] no matter what the cost is.”He rejected the notion that Hezbollah was dragging Lebanon into a war, citing the country suffering daily Israeli breaches of its air space and territorial waters “and we did not bring down any of them [Israeli warplanes and drones].”
“We will work to bring down the Israeli drones that enter Lebanese skies from now on because, as far as we are concerned, they have become attacks involving explosives.”
Last month in a speech marking the beginning of the 2006 war, Nasrallah said Hezbollah would revisit its policy on not downing Israeli warplanes and drones violating Lebanese airspace. And Sunday, he announced that this would no longer be acceptable.
Nasrallah insisted that he “was not joking” about his commitment to respond to Israeli aggressions, describing Sunday’s incident as a “red line.”
As for a separate overnight Israeli strike on a safe house for Hezbollah fighters inside Syria, Nasrallah also pledged retaliation over two of his killed fighters. Denying that the strike hit a Quds Force post, Nasrallah said the strike killed two Lebanese men who were fighting for the group and that he had “warned” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against targeting Lebanese.
Nasrallah called on Israeli soldiers at the border with Lebanon “to wait for us standing on one foot and a half, from tonight” vowing to retaliate for the Syria attack. “And it [retaliation] will not be in the Occupied Shebaa Farms, it will be on the [Lebanese] border [with Israel]” he said.
Acknowledging that Lebanese sides have pressured him not to seek avenge for fallen Hezbollah fighters in other countries, Nasrallah said this time it’s different.
“I tell the residents of northern occupied Palestine and all across, don’t rest assured, don’t relax and don’t believe that Hezbollah will allow this type [of attack],” he said, in a response to Israeli officials who told the Jewish state’s northern residents that they were safe.
Israeli reconnaissance hovered over south Lebanon and the capital’s southern suburbs - a Hezbollah stronghold - all day Sunday. Local sources along the Lebanese southern border reported the situation along the border was calm.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that it was necessary to prevent any escalation during a phone call with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The U.S. diplomat called for work to be done with all sides, in order to “prevent any form of deterioration,” a statement from Hariri’s office said.
For his part, Hariri said that Lebanon was committed to international resolutions, including U.N. Resolution 1701, which put an end to the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. The premier also warned of the dangers to continuous Israeli violations of the resolution and of Lebanese sovereignty. Hariri thanked Pompeo for his call, and affirmed his and Lebanon’s efforts to reduce the tensions.
President Michel Aoun called the incident a “blatant aggression against Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Aoun said the incident was “another chapter in the continuing violations of [United Nations] Security Council Resolution 1701,” which called for a cease-fire to the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.
A Lebanese Army source told The Daily Star Sunday that Lebanon’s strength lies in its commitment to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for a cease-fire to the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel.
“Reports of the violations are sent to the Foreign Ministry following the tripartite meeting, which [the ministry] sends to the [U.N.] Security Council,” the source said, in response to a question whether the Army would respond to the Israeli breaches.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil instructed the Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations to file a complaint to the U.N. Security Council and stressed Lebanon’s keenness to implement Resolution 1701, which Israel violated “481 [times] in the past two months.”
However, “Lebanon’s willingness to abide by the resolution ... and its adherence to stability does not negate its right to defend national sovereignty and do what is necessary to safeguard it,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.