BEIRUT, Lebanon – Tensions continued to rise along the Israel-Lebanon border this week as the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah said it struck an Israeli army base with explosive drones on Tuesday morning. The attack marks the first time Hezbollah has hit an Israeli military position in this latest round of hostilities between the two sides.
Hezbollah said the drone strike targeted an army headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Safed in retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a senior Hezbollah commander, Wissam Tawil, in southern Lebanon on Monday. Tawil, who played a key role in Hezbollah’s special forces unit and previously fought against Israel in the 2006 war, was buried Tuesday in his hometown in front of thousands of mourners.
Israel declined to confirm the location of Tuesday’s attack but said one of its northern bases was targeted. An Israeli military spokesperson said there was no damage or casualties.
This tit-for-tat violence is part of the deadliest fighting between Israel and Hezbollah since their month-long war in 2006. It erupted in early October after Israel assassinated a senior commander of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Beirut – the first such killing of a Hamas member in Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem said in a televised speech Tuesday that while the group does not want to expand the conflict beyond Lebanon’s borders, it will continue retaliating against Israel aggressively.
If Israel expands [the war], the response is inevitable to the maximum extent required to deter Israel,” Qassem declared.
Most of the recent violence has consisted of Hezbollah firing rockets at Israeli army positions near the border, and Israel responding with airstrikes and artillery barrages against Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.
According to Lebanese security sources, more than 130 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since hostilities erupted in early October. Israel has not released casualty figures on its side.
On Tuesday, in addition to the drone attack, Israel also carried out a strike in the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila that killed three Hezbollah personnel, the sources said.
An Israeli military spokesperson confirmed its air force hit Hezbollah targets in Kfar Kila on Tuesday as well as a drone squad elsewhere in southern Lebanon.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon said it is alarmed by the escalating exchanges.
“We have seen more and deeper strikes in the past few days, which is a worrying trend,” said Kandice Ardiel, a spokesperson for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
UNIFIL has over 10,000 troops deployed in southern Lebanon tasked with maintaining calm along the border. But Israel and Hezbollah have both accused UNIFIL recently of failing to prevent the other side’s military activities.
Analysts say the current tensions likely originated from Hezbollah’s anger over the October assassination of a senior Hamas official in Beirut, which showed Israel’s willingness to target even inside the Lebanese capital.
Hezbollah’s drone strike on Tuesday was a “measured” response intended to convey that Israeli actions in Beirut will not go unanswered, said Amer Sabaileh, an independent Middle East analyst.
Israel appears determined, however, to keep hitting Hezbollah along the border to reduce the militant group’s military capabilities and prevent it from attacking Israeli towns.
Experts warn the situation remains extremely combustible and could spiral out of control. Both sides have signaled they want to avoid all-out war but may feel compelled to continue retaliating forcefully against perceived provocations.
With neither side backing down, some analysts fear the region could be headed for a repeat of the 2006 conflict that caused massive destruction in Lebanon but failed to neutralize Hezbollah or resolve any core disputes.
It’s a dangerous game of chicken,” said Jeremy Arbid, a scholar of Middle East politics at the American University of Beirut. “Israel and Hezbollah keep raising the stakes trying to force the other to blink first.”
But eventually one side may feel it has no choice but to drastically escalate, and that’s when this tit-for-tat dynamic could lead to all-out war,” he added.
The current hostilities have already forced thousands of civilians on both sides of the border to evacuate frontier villages and move inland, away from the violence.
Israel insists its airstrikes have exclusively targeted Hezbollah military assets and that it has tried to avoid civilian casualties by issuing advance warnings before bombings.
But rights groups like Amnesty International have accused Israel of recklessly firing at densely populated areas of Lebanon and called for investigations into whether it has committed war crimes.
Inside Israel, the renewal of attacks from Lebanon has revived traumatic memories of the 2006 war for many residents near the border. During that conflict, Hezbollah bombarded northern Israeli towns and cities with around 4,000 rockets over the course of the 34-day conflict.
So far Hezbollah has launched rockets at a much lower intensity than in 2006. But Israeli civilians remain on edge given Hezbollah’s vast arsenal of over 100,000 rockets that could hit any location in Israel.
Residents of northern Israel have been instructed to stay close to bomb shelters in case of rocket fire. But many are becoming increasingly frustrated by the disruption to daily life.
“We are living under a black cloud of fear again,” said David Siman, a resident of the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. “The military needs to find a long-term solution because we can’t go on like this forever.”
With no diplomatic solution in sight, locals on both sides of the border are bracing for further violence. Analysts say domestic political considerations in both Israel and Lebanon likely preclude either side from backing down first.
Many experts contend the fundamental conflict will never be resolved without dealing with broader underlying issues like Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
“Until there is a will to address the root causes, any ceasefire or lull in violence will only be temporary,” said Lina Hamadeh, a Beirut-based expert on Hezbollah. “Lebanon has become a stage for regional rivalries and existential struggles beyond its control.”
“Unfortunately, ordinary people on both sides pay the price,” she added.