Defense minister issues warning after Hezbollah rockets; Netanyahu bars Likud MKs from commenting publicly on northern border escalation but some gov’t opponents choose to speak up
https://www.timesofisrael.com-By TOI staff
Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and other top officers at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on August 6, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Hezbollah and the Lebanese government on Friday that while the situation in their country is already dire, Israel was prepared to make it even worse, if quiet was not maintained on the northern border across which the Shiite terror group launched a barrage of rockets earlier in the day.
“We do not intend to let Hezbollah toy with us and Hezbollah knows this. Lebanon’s situation is shaky. We can make it even shakier,” Gantz told Channel 12, in reference to Israel’s northern neighbor, which is mired in economic collapse and political disarray.
“We recommend that Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and the Lebanese government don’t test the State of Israel,” the defense minister continued.
“We have no interests in Lebanon, except [in maintaining] security and quiet,” he said, adding that quiet will be met with quiet.
Nineteen rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon on Friday morning, sending residents in a number of towns in the Golan Heights and Galilee Panhandle scrambling to shelters.
The IDF said 10 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and six landed in open areas around Mount Dov. Another three rockets failed to clear the border and landed in Lebanese territory, according to the military.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group confirmed it had fired the projectiles on Friday, which it said came in response to recent Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon. “The Islamic Resistance shelled open areas near the Shebaa Farms with dozens of 122mm rockets,” it said in a statement carried in Arabic-language media.
Israel responded with artillery fire and warned of a heavy response if quiet was not maintained.
Thursday’s early morning airstrikes were in response to a previous rocket attack from Lebanon on Wednesday.
While the opposition led by Benjamin Netanyahu has made a point in criticizing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government on just about every issue, Friday’s rocket barrage from Hezbollah appeared to reveal one front where many of those outside the coalition were willing to hold back.
Lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud were silent Friday, and the Ynet news site reported that the opposition leader had ordered his party to avoid speaking to the media regarding the escalation in the north, in what appeared to be a sign of unity and respect for the government in the midst of a tense security situation.
But that directive did not extend to other parties, including Bennett’s Yamina, where rebel MK Amichai Chikli exploited the opportunity to make another dig at the prime minister, whose government he does not support.
“Everything’s okay,” Chikli tweeted shortly after the rocket fire on Friday, mocking the response Bennett gave to the press on Wednesday as he headed into security consultations after the week’s first salvo of rockets were launched at northern Israel.
Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich was far more biting in his response.
In a lengthy Twitter thread, the far-right lawmaker demanded that the government “alter the rules of the game,” long accepted by Israel, which he claimed prevented the IDF from responding more forcefully to the rocket fire because it did not strike any Israeli towns.
“The dangerous rules of the game established after the Second Lebanon War have allowed Hezbollah to strengthen massively,” he wrote, claiming that Israel has allowed the Lebanese terror group to get away with a “low-intensity terrorist routine.”
“We must not have “rules of the game” against Hezbollah, and therefore the Israeli response to today’s firing must be disproportionate in its intensity and damage to Hezbollah and Lebanon,” he added.