Hezbollah is preparing a “calculated strike” against its enemy Israel after suspected Israeli drones crashed in Beirut but it aims to avoid a new war, two sources allied to Hezbollah told Reuters on Tuesday.
A reaction “is being arranged in a way which wouldn’t lead to a war” that Hezbollah does not want, one of the sources said.
“The direction now is for a calculated strike, but how matters develop, that’s another thing.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah should “calm down” after Nasrallah said the Iranian-backed movement would respond to the crash of two drones in a Beirut suburb.
In a speech on Sunday, Nasrallah described the drones, including one that had exploded, 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,” Nasrallah said.
One of the drones exploded near the ground, causing some damage to Hezbollah’s media center in the southern suburbs of the capital which it dominates. Israeli officials have 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,” Netanyahu said in a speech.
Precise details about where the drones were fired from have yet to emerge. Hezbollah has said the two drones were rigged with explosives after its experts took apart the first drone.
Asked if Israel attacked any ground targets in Lebanon in recent days, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israeli Army Radio:
“We of course did not respond to the accusations leveled 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 the heavily armed Shiite Hezbollah movement 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.
Regional sources say that Israel and Hezbollah have formed an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire within Syria, any attacks within Lebanon or Israel are to be avoided lest they escalate to war.
Israel has grown alarmed by the rising influence of its foe Iran during the war in neighboring Syria, where Tehran and Hezbollah provide military help to Damascus.
Tehran also has wide sway in Iraq, where a grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shiite Muslim 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 airstrikes killed two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
Israel, which regularly strikes Iranian-linked targets in Syria, said it hit a compound controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds force, accusing it of planning killer drone attacks.
Netanyahu also issued warnings to Lebanon and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force, which the Israeli leader said aspires to destroy Israel.