Israel has killed a senior Hezbollah commander in an airstrike in Lebanon, prompting vows of retaliation from the Iran-backed militant group. The killing has raised concerns of a broader conflict as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits the region to call for calm.
Hezbollah Commander Killed in Israeli Strike
An Israeli airstrike on Sunday killed Hezbollah operative Wissam Hassan Al-Tawil in the Jarjou River area of southern Lebanon, according to Lebanese security sources.
Al-Tawil, also known as Abu Ali Al-Hadi, was a member of Hezbollah’s “Radwan Force,” an elite unit focused on establishing covert cells to fight Israel. He had reportedly been planning attacks against Israeli targets.
Hezbollah confirmed Al-Tawil’s death on Monday, calling him a “heroic martyr” and vowing retaliation against Israel.
“The blood of our martyrs will not go in vain,” the group said in a statement.
Hezbollah Retaliates with Armed Drone Strike
Hours after confirming Al-Tawil’s death, Hezbollah said it struck an Israeli military base with three armed drones.
The attack targeted the Israeli air force base in Kiryat Shmona near the Lebanese border, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. The Israeli military said one drone was intercepted and downed, with no casualties or damage.
Hezbollah said the rare drone strike was retaliation for Israel’s killing of Al-Tawil and another Hezbollah member last week. The group vowed further action in the future.
“Hezbollah’s bombardment of the Kiryat Shmona site is the first response to the killing of the two martyrs by the Israeli enemy,” it said in a statement. “Our retaliation to the martyrs’ deaths has started and will continue.”
Concerns Over Wider Conflict
The latest violence has sparked international concern that hostilities along the Israel-Lebanon border could escalate or merge with existing conflicts between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Monday in a bid to contain tensions and coordinate a joint response with Israeli and Arab partners. Blinken condemned Hezbollah’s drone attack and called for calm on all sides.
“We are very focused on avoiding the precipitating of a conflict or making one that, that exists, worse,” Blinken said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon also urged “maximum restraint,” saying the situation remained “tense and volatile” after the strikes.
Several militant groups, including Hamas in Gaza and Islamic Jihad militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, have praised Hezbollah’s retaliation and promised additional attacks against Israel in solidarity.
Israel Warns of Strong Response
Israeli officials have warned any further attacks from Lebanon will be met with significant retaliation.
“Hezbollah made a very serious mistake today that could lead Lebanon into an unnecessary escalation,” Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the Israeli military chief of staff, said after Sunday’s drone strike.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond forcefully to any additional aggression.
“The state of Israel will continue to fiercely attack anyone who attacks us,” Netanyahu said. “I suggest that Hezbollah look at Gaza and understand that the rules have changed.”
Israel has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of airstrikes against militant targets in Gaza during a weeks-long battle last year. The Israeli military says the strikes killed scores of Palestinian fighters and destroyed much of Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s attack capabilities in the coastal enclave.
Lead Up to Latest Strikes
Tensions along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon have been simmering for months amid Hezbollah threats over an ongoing maritime border dispute.
Hezbollah has vowed to prevent Israel from extracting gas from the Karish offshore field before Lebanon and Israel formally delimit their maritime border and address competing claims over the gas reserves there.
Last July, Hezbollah sent three drones toward Karish in an apparent attempt to disrupt Israel’s gas operations there. At the time, Hezbollah warned it would take “practical measures” if Lebanon was prevented from benefiting from the field.
Israel and Hezbollah also exchanged cross-border fire in August after Hezbollah fired rockets toward Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms area. Israel responded with artillery fire.
There were no casualties in either incident. But the violence marked the heaviest shelling along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
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What Happens Next?
With Hezbollah vowing further retaliation over Al-Tawil’s death, the situation along the Israel-Lebanon border remains extremely tense.
Israeli defense officials have reportedly warned the government to prepare for possible Hezbollah attacks on Israeli targets abroad in the coming days and weeks.
At the same time, the Israeli military is said to be weighing plans for a significant operation against Hezbollah’s attack tunnel infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Such a move would likely prompt further Hezbollah retaliation.
Analysts say the biggest risk is that cross-border violence could spiral as militant groups across the region rally behind Hezbollah. That could potentially lead to an all-out conflict reminiscent of the 2006 Lebanon War.
For now, the U.S., U.N. and other international brokers are focused on preventing further escalation that might endanger the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
But with tensions flaring on multiple fronts, experts warn the Israel-Hezbollah brinkmanship could trigger a regional conflagration if cooler heads don’t prevail on both sides.
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