Hezbollah preparing 'calculated' response to Israel

Sources said that the Lebanese armed group is not looking to start a war but will retaliate after drones crashed in Beirut

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Hezbollah is preparing a “calculated strike” against Israel after drones crashed in Beirut, but the party’s deputy head said they wanted to avoid another war.

Sheikh Naim Qassem believes all-out conflict remains unlikely.

“I rule out that the atmosphere is one of war, it is one of a response to an attack,” he told Russia’s RT Arabic channel on Tuesday night. “Everything will be decided at its time.”

Earlier, a source told Reuters: “The direction now is for a calculated strike. But how matters develop, that’s another thing.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah should “calm down” after Nasrallah said his Iran-backed movement would respond to the crash of two drones in a Beirut suburb at the weekend.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the drones, including one that exploded.

But on Sunday, Nasrallah described it as the first Israeli attack in Lebanon since the two sides fought a month-long war in 2006.

“I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard. Wait for us one, two, three, four days,” he said.

One of the drones blew up near the ground, causing some damage to Hezbollah’s media centre in the southern suburbs, where the group has wide support. Israeli officials declined to comment when asked if Israel was responsible.

“I heard what Nasrallah said. I suggest to Nasrallah to calm down. He knows well that Israel knows how to defend itself and to pay back its enemies,” Mr Netanyahu said.

There are no details about where the drones took off from.

Hezbollah said both drones were rigged with explosives.

Asked if Israel attacked any ground targets in Lebanon in recent days, Regional Co-operation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Mr Netanyahu’s security Cabinet, told Israeli Army Radio: “We did not respond to the accusations levelled at us. On their face, these things seem weird and intriguing. The media have reported this fact – that these are allegations that have no basis.”

Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council, which includes the president, prime minister and army commander, convened on Tuesday and said the Lebanese have “the right to defend themselves against any attack”.

Israel deems Hezbollah the biggest threat across its border. In their 2006 war, nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in Lebanon and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Israel and Hezbollah have an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire in Syria, any attacks in Lebanon or Israel are to be avoided lest they escalate to war.

Israel is alarmed by the rising influence of Iran during the war in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran and Hezbollah provide military help to Damascus. Tehran also has wide sway in Iraq, where a grouping of paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, have blamed recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday his country had a right to defend itself, likening Israeli drone strikes to a “declaration of war”.

Late on Saturday, Israeli air strikes killed two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in Syria.

Israel, which regularly strikes Iran-linked targets in Syria, said it hit a compound controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, accusing it of planning drone attacks.

Mr Netanyahu also issued warnings to Lebanon and Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force, which the Israeli leader said aspires to destroy Israel.

“Watch what you say, and moreover be careful about what you do,” he said.

Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon that patrols the border with Israel, said the situation in the area was quiet.

“Unifil continues to work with the parties to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or incidents that may endanger the cessation of hostilities,” Mr Tenenti said.

But the Lebanese army on Wednesday filed a complaint with the UN peacekeeping force after four Israeli flares caused a fire outside Shebaa town, which is occupied by Israel, a day earlier.

Head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, Stefano Del Col, visited Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese army head Gen Joseph Aoun to discuss recent events.

“I remain fully engaged with the parties to prevent misunderstandings and maintain the cessation of hostilities,” he tweeted after the meeting.

In a visit on Sunday to Israel’s north, where he met army commanders, Mr Netanyahu appeared to hint at attacking Lebanon directly if Hezbollah struck Israel.

“Any country that allows its territory to be used for aggression against Israel will face the consequences, and I repeat: the country will face the consequences,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Hariri met several ambassadors from the Arab world to discuss the escalation.

Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon Abdul Al Kinai said after a meeting of Arab envoys: “Mr Hariri explained the Lebanese viewpoint on the recent events in Beirut and the southern suburbs.

“We as Arab countries stated our support and attachment to the security and stability of Lebanon and the measures or policies it takes to preserve its security, stability and territorial integrity.”