Two Israeli Soldiers Killed: Tensions High on Lebanon Border

The tension which has gripped Israel’s northern border in the wake of a drone missile strike on January 18 which killed a dozen senior Hezbollah and Iranian officers -- among them the chief of Hezbollah intelligence and operations outside of Lebanon and an Iranian major general -- has ratcheted up.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven wounded in an attack mounted from the Lebanese side of the border, for which Hezbollah is claiming credit. According to IDF spokesman Brigadier Moti Almoz, the casualties were caused by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon which struck a vehicle in a military convoy moving in the Har Dov border region.

Israel has retaliated with artillery fire and air strikes.

According to a UN spokesman quoted by al-Jazeera, a Spanish corporal assigned to UNIFIL along the Lebanese border has been killed by Israeli retaliatory fire. The Spanish defense minister has confirmed the loss.

In a second incident, a mortar bomb fired from Lebanon struck a home in the Israeli village of Kfar Rajar, an Arab village near the northern Israeli city of Yoqne’am. Additional mortar rounds have been reported on Israeli positions along the border, but no damage or casualty reports have been issued.

Overnight, sirens sounded alerting residents of border villages of additional cross-border rocket fire, but no other damage or casualties have been reported, and searches have so far turned up no new rocket fragments.

Exchanges of fire between the sides continue as this is being written. Channel 2 news in Israel is reporting that Hezbollah has reportedly asked UNIFIL to request a cease-fire. No confirmation of such a request has been noted by Israel at this time.

Over the last few days, the focus of military activity in the region has been the Ramim Ridge along the Lebanese border. Israel holds the eastern slope of the 900-meter high feature, which overlooks the Qadesh Valley, site of a major Biblical battle and currently the location of a number of Israeli farming villages. Hezbollah holds most of the western slope. There has been a flurry of military activity on both sides of the ridge, with Israeli tanks moving into position and large trucks, normally used as tank transporters, bringing up concrete barriers being placed to protect traffic on the northern highway system.

Hezbollah has similarly ben fortifying houses in southern Lebanese villages along the border, and has set up headquarters in the large village of at-Taibeh. There are reports that Hezbollah units engaged in support of Syrian forces fighting Sunni jihadist rebels are being withdrawn and sent to the border region as reinforcements of units already stationed there, along with Iraqi Shi‘ite militiamen, for the very first time.

Sunday night, a loud explosion was heard from the Lebanese side of the border, the cause of which is unknown and undisclosed as of this writing. Rumors are rife on the Israeli side of the border that the explosion is related to Israeli countermeasures against terrorist tunnels which it is alleged that Hezbollah has been digging in the area.

Though rumors of such tunnels abound in northern Israel, the Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such tunnels, which would resemble those discovered and destroyed during the operation in Gaza last summer.

On Tuesday, January 27, two rockets fired from the Syrian side of the border hit Israel. Both exploded on vacant land, one in the Israeli Golan near Kibbutz Merom ha-Golan, the other on Mt. Hermon near the ski lodge. They caused no real damage or casualties (two others also launched apparently fell short on the Syrian side of the border). The IDF responded with artillery fire, and has also taken the precaution of evacuating roughly 1,000 people from the slopes of Mt. Hermon. Roads in the Golan area have been closed by Israeli police, and residents of the area spent the night in bomb shelters as a precaution against the possible arrival of more ordinance from the Syrian or Lebanese side of the border.

Israeli troops along the border have been brought to the highest state of alert, and Israeli military aircraft are now engaged in a 24-hour-a-day combat air patrol.

Also on Tuesday, two high-ranking Iranian officials warned Israel to await retaliation soon. One, Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Amir‘abdollahian, said: “We told the Americans that the leaders of the Zionist regime should await the consequences of their act. ... Israel crossed our red lines.”

This marks the first time that the Iranians have claimed to have sent a diplomatic warning to Israel by way of the Americans. Asked about this allegation in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on “private diplomatic contacts with Iran” beyond saying that no threat was delivered to Israel in the latest round of nuclear talks. “We absolutely condemn any such threats that come in any form,” Psaki told reporters.

The other threat was delivered later on Tuesday night, when the Revolutionary Guards' acting commander vowed that Iran would “retaliate soon.”