Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, warned on Sunday that time is running out to find a peaceful solution to the presence of Hezbollah fighters along the country’s northern border with Lebanon, and that Israel is ready to launch a military operation if the situation does not improve.
Katz, who spoke at a press conference in Tel Aviv, said that Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group backed by Iran, which has been firing rockets and mortars at Israeli positions and civilian areas almost daily since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7.
“We have been showing restraint and patience, but our patience is not unlimited,” Katz said. “We will not allow Hezbollah to turn our northern border into a war zone, and we will not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty and our citizens. If Hezbollah does not withdraw from the border area, as required by the UN resolution, we will have no choice but to act decisively and forcefully to protect ourselves and our interests.”
Katz said that Israel is prepared to open another front with a large-scale military attack on southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has its stronghold and its arsenal of thousands of rockets and missiles, some of which can reach deep into Israel. He said that such an attack would have devastating consequences for Lebanon, which is already suffering from a severe economic and political crisis.
“We do not want a war with Lebanon, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves if we have to,” Katz said. “We hope that the Lebanese government and the international community will take the necessary steps to prevent such a scenario, and to restore calm and stability to the region.”
Katz’s remarks came amid rising tensions and violence along the Israel-Lebanon border, which has been relatively quiet since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, which ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire and the deployment of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.
The latest round of hostilities was triggered by the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, launched a surprise attack on Israel with rockets and tunnels, in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel responded with a massive aerial and ground campaign, which has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, according to official sources.
The war also sparked a wave of solidarity and support for the Palestinians among other Arab and Muslim groups and countries, including Hezbollah, which vowed to join the fight against Israel and to avenge the deaths of its allies in Gaza. Hezbollah has since been firing rockets and mortars at Israeli military and civilian targets along the border, as well as sending drones and infiltrators into Israeli territory.
Israel has retaliated with artillery and airstrikes, targeting Hezbollah’s positions and infrastructure in southern Lebanon. The clashes have killed dozens of people on both sides, and forced almost 100,000 Israelis and thousands of Lebanese to evacuate their homes and seek shelter.
The UN and other regional and international actors have been trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah, but so far without success. The main obstacles include Israel’s demand for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the demilitarization of southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s demand for the lifting of the blockade and the opening of the crossings that have isolated Gaza from the outside world for years.
The situation on the Israel-Lebanon border remains tense and volatile, as both sides continue to exchange fire and threats, and as the possibility of a wider and more destructive war looms large.