Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel was prepared for any scenario, after a cross-border clash with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, but neither side seemed eager for another conflict.
Israel’s military said anti-tank missiles from Lebanon targeted an army base and vehicles and that it responded with fire into southern Lebanon, after a week of growing tension raised fears of a new war with long-time enemy Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said its fighters destroyed an Israeli military vehicle, killing and wounding those inside. Israel’s military said there were no casualties.
Netanyahu, whose re-election campaign ahead of a poll less than three weeks away could have been complicated by war in the north, signalled business as usual after the hostilities erupted along the frontier with Lebanon.
The Israeli leader kept to his regular schedule, commenting on the security situation, in Hebrew only, at the start of a meeting with Honduras’ visiting president, and did not take questions from reporters.
“We were attacked by a few anti-tank missiles. We responded with 100 shells, aerial fire and various measures. We are in consultations about what’s to come,” Netanyahu said.
“I have given instructions to be prepared for any scenario, and we will decide on what’s next depending on how things develop,” he said, almost dismissively, in a departure from his usually much tougher language towards Israel’s enemies.
“I can make an important announcement – we have no casualties, no wounded, not even a scratch.”
The two sides fought a one-month war in 2006 after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.
Israel has been on alert for a confrontation with Hezbollah for the past week after two drones crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Security officials in the region have described the target as linked to precision-guided missile projects.
Any new war between Israel and Hezbollah would raise the risk of a wider conflict in the Middle East, where Iran has defied US attempts to force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal it reached with world powers.
At the same time, Israel is concerned about Tehran’s growing influence in the region through militia allies such as Hezbollah in countries such as Syria.
In Iraq, powerful Iranian-backed militias have blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots on Israel and the United States.
Hezbollah said the operation on Sunday was carried out by a unit named after two of its fighters who were killed by an Israeli air strike inside Syria last week.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said late on Saturday that field commanders were ready to respond to last week’s drone attack, which he blamed on Israel. But like Netanyahu, Nasrallah has not indicated Hezbollah was seeking full-scale war.
Amid the threats, Israel had moved reinforcements into the border region, which had been largely quiet since the two long-time enemies fought the month-long war in 2006.
Without claiming responsibility for the drone attack last week, the Israeli military published what it said were details about an extensive Iranian-sponsored campaign to provide Hezbollah with the means to produce precision-guided missiles.
Such missiles — which Hezbollah acknowledges possessing — could potentially pose a counter-balance to Israel’s overwhelming military force in any future war, with the capacity to home in on and knock out core infrastructure sites.