Israel warns of 'war' as Hezbollah strikes air traffic base
The increase in fighting across the border with Lebanon as Israel wages war on Gaza gave new urgency to U.S. diplomatic efforts as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to visit Israel on his latest Mideast tour.
“This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering,” Blinken told reporters after talks in Qatar, a key mediator. The escalation of cross-border fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has complicated a U.S. push to prevent a regional conflict.
The Israeli military said Hezbollah fire hit the sensitive air traffic control base on Mount Meron on Saturday but air defenses were not affected because backup systems were in place. It said that no soldiers were hurt and all damage will be repaired.
Nonetheless, it was one of the most serious attacks by Hezbollah in the months of fighting that has accompanied Israel's war in Gaza and forced tens of thousands of Israelis to evacuate communities near the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah described its rocket barrage as an “initial response” to the targeted killing of a top Hamas leader in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut last week, which is presumed to have been carried out by Israel.
The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Col. Herzi Halevi, said military pressure on Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, was rising and it would either be effective “or we will get to another war.” Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari asserted that Israel’s focus on Hezbollah’s elite Radwan force was pushing it away from the border.
Israel has mostly sought to limit the fighting in its north. Hezbollah’s military capabilities are far superior to those of Hamas. But Israeli leaders have said their patience is wearing thin, and that if the tensions cannot be resolved through diplomacy, they are prepared to use force.
“I suggest that Hezbollah learn what Hamas has already learned in recent months: No terrorist is immune," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet. We are determined to defend our citizens and to return the residents of the north safely to their homes.”
Lower-intensity fighting along Israel’s northern border broke out when Hezbollah began firing rockets shortly after the beginning of the war on October 7. Hezbollah has said its attacks aim to ease pressure on Gaza.
In a joint news briefing with Blinken, Qatar’s government acknowledged that the assassination of the senior Hamas leader in Lebanon can affect the complicated negotiations for the potential release of more hostages held by Hamas in Gaza but “we are continuing our discussions with the parties and trying to achieve as soon as possible an agreement.”