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IDF chief, president tour Lebanon border amid heightened tensions with Hezbollah

IDF Chief of staff Herzi Halevi and President Isaac Herzog made separate trips Wednesday to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon amid heightened tensions with the Hezbollah terror organization.

According to the military, Halevi toured the new security barrier that Israel is building along the border, entirely within Israeli territory, and met with officers tasked with guarding the area.

A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said he also held deliberations with commanders who “surveyed the latest incidents on the border and presented a variety of means used by the division to disrupt and thwart violations of [Israeli] sovereignty in the border area.”

In recent weeks, Hezbollah activity has repeatedly been spotted along the border with Israel, in incidents that Israel sees as deliberate provocations, including the erection of two tents beyond the UN-recognized Blue Line. The Iran-backed group later took down one of the tents, while threatening to attack if Israel moves to dismantle the other one.

During his visit to the border, President Isaac Herzog warned Hezbollah not to test Israel’s resolve as he and several soldiers used binoculars to peer into Lebanon.

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“I want to tell our enemies — especially Hezbollah on the other side of the border — don’t be mistaken,” he said. “The IDF is strong, it is united. It is capable and will protect and defend our sovereignty and the security and well-being of the people of Israel. This is our top priority.”

The president also expressed sympathy for Lebanon’s citizens: “We extend our hands to the Lebanese people. They don’t deserve this, they don’t deserve the Iranian spell that kills and ruins many parts of their country. They definitely don’t deserve the involvement of Hezbollah, which undermines their stability and well-being.”

President Isaac Herzog tours Israel’s birder with Lebanon on August 2, 2023 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Over the weekend, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned his Shiite organization would respond to any “stupid act” by Israel. Later reacting to Nasrallah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “It’s better for him not to put us to the test.”

During a separate meeting on Sunday, defense officials presented Netanyahu with an intelligence overview and situation assessments, according to Channel 12, which said Nasrallah is likely to carry out provocations along the border, sensing that Israel, facing an ongoing internal crisis from the judicial overhaul, will not respond strongly.

Following that meeting, Netanyahu’s office released a vague statement saying the prime minister accepted recommendations and courses of action proposed by the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment, without offering details.

Children ride their bicycles past by a poster of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah at the Lebanese-Israeli border village of Marwaheen, July 12, 2023 (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon have risen recently. Israel and Lebanon do not have a formal border due to territorial disputes; however, they largely abide by the United Nations-recognized Blue Line. The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas, which is built entirely within Israeli territory.

The area where the tents were erected was captured by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and later effectively annexed along with the Golan Heights and the village of Ghajar. The Lebanese government says the area belongs to Lebanon.