Israel warns it can ‘no longer accept’ Hizbollah on its border

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Israel’s national security adviser has warned that Israel “can no longer accept” the presence of Hizbollah forces on its northern border, and said it will have to “act” if they continue to pose a threat.

Tensions between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese militant group have been running high since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted two months ago, with repeated bouts of cross-border fire.

Despite the frequent exchanges which have led to casualties on both sides, Israel and Hizbollah have so far avoided being drawn into a full-blown conflict amid intense diplomatic efforts by the US and other countries to prevent an escalation.

However, Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday that Israel could not accept a situation in which residents of Israel’s north, who were evacuated in the early weeks of the war, were afraid to return to their homes because they feared Hizbollah’s elite Radwan force could launch a cross-border attack on the north of Israel, as Hamas did in the south.

“We can no longer accept the Radwan force sitting on the border . . . The Israeli public . . . understand that the situation in the north needs to change. And it will change,” Hanegbi said in an interview with Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 news.

“If Hizbollah agrees to change it diplomatically, that’s good, if not — we will have to act. We will have to ensure that the situation in the north is different.”

Hanegbi’s comments are the latest sign of Israel’s unease at Hizbollah’s deep entrenchment in southern Lebanon. Last month, foreign minister Eli Cohen warned that there was a risk of war if UN resolution 1701 — a 2006 decision which bars Hizbollah from entering a demilitarised zone in southern Lebanon — was not enforced.

The remarks came as Israeli forces and Hizbollah engaged in their latest bout of fire on Saturday night, with Israeli fighter jets hitting targets including a Hizbollah command centre in Lebanon after militants launched rockets at Israel.

Hizbollah is one of the world’s most heavily armed non-state actors, with a complex arsenal of missiles capable of reaching anywhere in Israel. It withstood a 34-day conflict with Israel in 2006 and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has since boasted that he has 100,000 fighters at his command.

Hanegbi said that Israel did not want to fight Hizbollah at the same time as Hamas. He added that it was “making clear to the Americans that we are not interested in war” in the north, but that Israel would have “no alternative but to impose a new reality” if Hizbollah’s forces continued to pose a threat.

Israel declared war on Hamas after its fighters stormed into the south of the country from Gaza on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and taking a further 240 hostage in the deadliest ever attack on Israeli territory.

Israel’s retaliatory invasion of Gaza has killed more than 17,700 people according to Palestinian health officials. As the death toll has soared there has been mounting international pressure for a humanitarian ceasefire.

However the US vetoed a widely supported UN security council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire on Friday, and Hanegbi said that the duration of the conflict would not “be measured in weeks . . . and I’m not sure it can be measured in months”.

He added that he believed that Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, would never surrender. But if he was killed, other Hamas leaders might choose to leave Gaza rather than fight to the bitter end, he added, arguing that this meant killing Sinwar could help achieve Israel’s goal of freeing its hostages.

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