Israeli strikes in Lebanon kill Hezbollah commander, militia says | ET REALITY


Israel launched attacks in southern Lebanon on Monday against Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia, which said one of its top commanders had been killed there, raising concerns that Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza could explode into a broader regional war.

Hezbollah and Israel have bombed and fired rockets at each other frequently over the past three months, in some of the most intense fighting along the Lebanese border since Israel and Hezbollah were at war in 2006.

The commander’s killing came amid Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s latest trip to the Middle East, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to prevent the war between Israel and Hamas from spreading to other fronts, and as officials Israelis issued new warnings to their adversaries. .

During a visit to northern Israel on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told soldiers guarding the border that Israel was ready to “do whatever is necessary to restore security in the north.”

“Hezbollah wronged us badly in 2006, and it is wrongfully wronging us even now,” he said, referring to Israel’s latest war against Hezbollah, according to a statement from his office.

Concerns about a broader war have troubled the United States and its allies since the Hamas-led attacks in Israel on October 7 that killed about 1,200 Israelis and sparked the war in Gaza. Those concerns largely focus on three Iranian-backed groups: Hezbollah in Lebanon; the militias in Iraq and Syria; and the Houthis in Yemen, who launched attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and prompted the United States to send two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean in October.

During a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday, Blinken met briefly with Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, to “discuss efforts to prevent the conflict from spreading and ensure lasting peace for the region,” according to a spokesperson. , Matthew Miller. Like Blinken, Borrell was in Saudi Arabia to meet with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The Israelis have been very clear with us that they want to find a diplomatic way forward, a diplomatic way forward that creates the kind of security that allows Israelis to return to their homes; “Almost 100,000 Israelis have been forced to leave their homes in northern Israel because of the threat coming from Hezbollah and Lebanon, but it also allows Lebanese to return to their homes in southern Lebanon,” Blinken said in Saudi Arabia. before flying to Tel Aviv. “And we’re working hard on that effort, and we’re doing it diplomatically.”

Clashes along Israel’s border with Lebanon have prompted repeated Israeli warnings of more aggressive military action. According to the Reuters news agency, more than 130 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in the clashes.

The Biden administration has been calling for a deal that would move Hezbollah forces away from the border, but with little apparent progress. Although Israeli officials have said time is running out for a diplomatic agreement, analysts say Israel is wary of significantly expanding the conflict with Hezbollah while the military is still engaged in heavy fighting in Gaza.

But Lebanese officials have blamed Israel for attacks well beyond the border, including one last week near Beirut that killed a senior Hamas official who was a liaison to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah identified the commander killed on Monday as Wissam Hassan al-Tawil. A Lebanese security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said he had been part of the Radwan unit, which Israel says aims to infiltrate its northern border. The official said al-Tawil had been killed in an Israeli attack in Khirbet Selm, a village in southern Lebanon that is about nine miles from the Israeli border.

The Radwan unit has taken the lead in Hezbollah’s long conflict with Israel and in cross-border attacks that have intensified in the three months that Israel and Hamas have been at war. Israeli military analysts say Radwan has adopted a mission to conquer the Galilee region of northern Israel.

The unit’s origins and composition are unclear. The group took its name from the nom de guerre of its former leader, Imad Mughniyeh, killed in Syria in 2008.

al-Tawil’s role in Hezbollah was not immediately clear. But in an apparent effort to point out his seniority, Al Manar, a Lebanese broadcaster owned by Hezbollah, published images of him alongside several high-ranking Hezbollah officials, including the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, as well as Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian general who was assassinated. in a US drone strike in 2020.

The Israeli military did not comment directly on Monday’s attack. In a statement, it said an Israeli warplane had carried out “a series of strikes,” hitting a Hezbollah military site, without giving further details.

A day earlier, the Israeli military said it had killed at least seven Hezbollah members in attacks aimed at destroying the Radwan unit and was prepared to attack more than Hezbollah’s positions. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi said his forces were determined to keep pressure on Hezbollah and that if those efforts failed, Israel was ready to fight “another war.”

“We will create a completely different reality or we will end up with another war,” he said. said on sunday.

Hezbollah attacks damaged an Israeli military base on Saturday, one of the group’s largest attacks against Israel in months of back-and-forth attacks. The powerful Lebanese militia has pledged support to Hamas and, in recent days, has stepped up attacks on Israel in response to the killing last week of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader, outside Beirut.

Rocket fire at the Israeli base, the Northern Air Control Unit on Mount Meron, caused significant damage, according to Israeli media reports. But the base is still operational “and has been reinforced with additional systems,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said Sunday.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly stated in recent weeks that there are only two options for restoring calm to the conflict with Hezbollah: a diplomatic solution that would move Radwan’s forces away from the border, north of the Litani River; or, failing that, a major Israeli military offensive aimed at achieving the same objective.

“Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon into a totally unnecessary war,” Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters on Monday.

“We are now at a fork in the road,” he added. “Either Hezbollah backs down, hopefully as part of a diplomatic solution, or we will reject it.”

Calm, Israeli officials say, is a prerequisite for allowing some 80,000 Israelis who have been evacuated from the area near the Lebanese border to return to their homes. A similar number of Lebanese have fled their homes to the other side.

Eduardo Wong contributed reporting from Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.

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