Israel has warned that if war were to break out with Hezbollah it would result in Lebanon returning “to the stone age”.
The threat issued by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday comes after weeks of repeated skirmishes with the armed Iran-backed group on the border area between the two countries.
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“Do not make a mistake. We do not want a war. But we are prepared to protect our civilians, our soldiers and our sovereignty,” Gallant said in a video statement to The Times of Israel.
Addressing Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Gallant said: “You have made mistakes in the past, you have paid very heavy prices. If … an escalation or conflict develops here, we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age.”
Speaking during a visit to the border area, Gallant went on to say that Israel would not hesitate to use its power to “erode every inch of Hezbollah and Lebanon if we have to”.
There has been no official comment yet from Hezbollah on the Israeli threat.
Such rhetoric has been heard from both sides since the last Israel-Hezbollah war, in 2006. But it has become more pointed since a roadside bombing in Israel in March, which it blamed on a Hezbollah infiltrator.
The group did not claim responsibility for the bombing.
Recent weeks have seen face-offs between Lebanese civilians, at least one group of Hezbollah operatives and Israeli troops across the fortified frontier.
Last Sunday, the Israeli cabinet discussed in its weekly meeting the tensions with Hezbollah. According to the Israeli Channel 13, officials in Israel’s army told ministers that “it is difficult to assess what a limited confrontation with Hezbollah means in the current sensitive reality”, and stressed the need to distinguish between the real plans and actions of Hezbollah and the “provocations on the border fence”.
Israel recently accused Hezbollah of increased provocations, such as the erection of two tents in the disputed border area. There were also new tensions around the divided border town of Ghajar.
Peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have been monitoring the border area between Israel and Lebanon since 1978.
The two countries are officially in a state of war. The last time there was a month-long war between the two sides was in 2006. There have been repeated tensions along the border since then.