WASHINGTON - Tensions are rising between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as the Israeli military said on Sunday that a number of anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon, targeting an Israeli military base and vehicles.
“A number of hits have been confirmed,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that it “is responding with fire towards the sources of fire and targets in southern Lebanon.”
No casualties were reported from the attack, Israeli officials said.
Hours before the incident, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had vowed to retaliate for the recent “Israeli aggression” in south Beirut.
“This time I wanted to say it would be open-ended where we would retaliate from,” he said during a televised speech Saturday night, which was broadcast on Hezbollah channel al-Manar TV.
The leader of the Iranian-backed group said that the first response against Israel was downing its two drones in Lebanon last week.
Two explosive-laden drones crashed and exploded in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahiyeh in Beirut last Sunday. The attack was blamed on Israel by the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.
Israel hasn’t officially commented on the alleged incident. But Israeli officials have warned that they would target Iran and its proxies should they continue to threaten Israel’s security.
In the meantime, the Lebanese military said on Sunday that “a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy violated the Lebanese airspace… and threw flammable materials over the area, which led to a fire.”
The Lebanese military added that it was following this incident with U.N. forces in Lebanon.
The Sunday exchange of fire were part of a series of recent events in which Israel has targeted Iranian military targets in Syria and reportedly in Iraq.
The “question is whether Hezbollah will regard this [attack on Israel] as a response to both the Beirut events and the Aqraba incident [in Syria],” said Jonathan Spyer, a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.
He told VOA that as long as there are no Israeli causalities, the situation on the Israel-Lebanon border will eventually calm down.
Last week, the Israeli air force also carried out strikes against a cell belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps near the Syrian capital, Damascus, which Israel says was on its way to launch drone attacks against northern Israel.
Israel believes that Iran, which has a significant military presence in Syria, has been using Hezbollah and its bases in Lebanon and Syria to transport weapons to areas near Israel’s borders with both countries.
Israel also has accused Iran of helping Hezbollah to stockpile precision-guided missiles that could cause “massive” human casualties in Israel.
Risking Lebanon for Iran?
Experts charge that the Shi’ite militant group has increasingly become a main force for Iran’s hostility towards Israel.
“Hezbollah seems to be ready to put itself on the frontlines for the Iranians,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former National Security Advisor to the prime minister of Israel and a fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
He told VOA that, “If the Lebanese let Hezbollah and Iran build their launch pads and facilities in Lebanon, at the end of the day the price will be paid by the Lebanese.”
But Lebanese researcher Michel Shamai believes that Hezbollah doesn’t have the capabilities to enter an all-out war with Israel, because it “isn’t ready to risk the entire state of Lebanon for the sake of its masters in Iran.”
“And it won’t stand by idly in front of its audience that has been mobilized with fulfilling promises,” he said in a recent article in the Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar.
Since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the two sides have occasionally exchanged attacks. In the wake of Syria’s war, Israel has also hit Hezbollah targets inside Syria.
Israel continues its military buildup on its northern border with Lebanon. The Israeli military has sent artillery batteries to the area and the Israeli navy also has been put on high alert.
Analyst Amidror said that “this build is primarily to deter Hezbollah from making any mistakes.”
“It is a clear message from Israel that any retaliation from Hezbollah will face a big response from Israel. That’s why Hezbollah's [Sunday] response was very minor,” he said.
The tensions between the two sides are unlikely to escalate, Amidror added.