Beirut: Hezbollah will respond with a “surprise” strike against Israel after drones crashed in Lebanon, but a new war remains unlikely, the Iran-backed movement said, amid heightened fears of a full-scale confrontation between the longtime adversaries.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the two drones that crashed at the weekend in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut. One of them exploded, causing some damage to Hezbollah’s media centre in the district, but nobody was hurt.
“I rule out that the atmosphere is one of war, it is one of a response to an attack,” Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said in a TV interview on Tuesday night.
“Everything will be decided at its time.”
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah is planning a “calculated strike” but seeks to avoid a new war with Israel, two sources allied to the Shiite group, which fought a deadly month-long war with Israel in 2006, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday.
A regional security official said the drone incident was “a strike that dealt a blow to Hezbollah’s capabilities in the realm of precision-missile manufacturing”.
“Israel’s message to Hezbollah here, writ large, was: Keep manufacturing, and we will keep hitting you.”
Asked what would happen if Hezbollah escalates after responding, the official said: “I imagine that Israel would then step up its strikes and wipe out this capability altogether. The details of these sites are known. The ball would now appear to be in Hezbollah’s court.”
Tensions come at sensitive time
Despite signs that Israel and Hezbollah do not want a new full-scale conflict, tensions over the drones and an air raid in Syria that Israel says thwarted an Iranian attack have emerged at a sensitive time in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to appear decisive ahead of elections in three weeks.
Iran and the United States are at odds over a 2015 nuclear deal.
In a speech on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah described the drone crashes as the first Israeli attack in Lebanon since the 2006 war.