Israel was able to intercept and destroy an armed convoy of two trucks near the villages of Janta and Yahfoufa on the Syrian border with Lebanon on Monday. The trucks, loaded with missiles and a missile launcher, are believed to belong to the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
According to reports, the area of the attack is home to a center for recruitment and training of Hezbollah´s militants and a hotspot for the smuggling of weapons from Syria into Lebanon.
Since the outburst of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Israel has been closely monitoring the Lebanese-Syrian border for fears of a conflict spillover. Last year the country´s increasing security concerns led its air forces to hit and destroy six similar targets reported as delivering weapon to Lebanon.
Hezbollah´s weapon arsenal was severely reduced during the 2006 war with Israel, but Israeli security forces believe the militant group has been taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to restock its armaments with thousands of rocket and missiles that enter Syria from Russia and Iran and are then smuggled across border into the Lebanese territory controlled by the fighters.
According to an official who spoke to the Time Magazine on condition of anonymity, the destroyed convoy was loaded with warheads that appeared to be “heavier and more dangerous” than the missiles the militants have so far pointed to Israel.
Israeli military chief Gen. Benny Gantz admitted that his country is keeping under control the movement of all type of weapons across the Lebanese-Syrian border and that “in case of necessity, something can happen.” In a speech held few days ago, during a visit on the Golan Heights, the General accused Iran of meddling in the Syrian conflict, where Hezbollah militants are also fighting, by “handing out torches to the pyromaniacs.”
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to confirm allegations that his country for responsible for destroying the convoy, he vaguely referred to it on Tuesday, saying that his government was prepared to take all the necessary measures “to protect the security of the Israeli citizens.”
Despite conducting a number of similar military operations on the Syrian border in 2013, Israel has carefully avoided claiming its responsibility, while Hezbollah has simply resorted to veiled threats. This seems to suggest that, despite the simmering tension, both sides are reluctant to engage in another war that this time could have unexpected proportions.
On Wednesday, breaking its initial silence over the attack, Hezbollah issued a statement calling the Israeli strike at the convoy a “blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory” and announced its intention to retaliate.
Maj. Gen. Eyal Ben Reuven expressed doubts regarding Hezbollah´s capacity to take retaliatory actions, on account of their ongoing involvement in the Syrian war. However, he also remarked that the Middle East is an extremely volatile region and therefore no scenario can be ruled out.
These words confirm the somber possibility that Monday´s airstrike against the Hezbollah´s convoy could be more than just another episode in the battles at the Syrian border and could well spark a violent reaction from Lebanese rebels, raising the specter of a Syrian war spillover across the border with Israel.
By Stefano Salustri