The Israel Defence Forces said that they had “thwarted an infiltration attempt” by a Hezbollah cell along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on Monday afternoon.
The IDF said that it had opened fire at five Hezbollah operatives in the Mount Dov area, also known as the Shebaa Farms, after they crossed a few metres into Israeli territory.
Residents near the border were ordered to remain indoors for an hour after an exchange of artillery following the incident and the IDF stated that it had closed major roads running near the frontier.
The IDF spokesman Hidai Zilberman said that within two hours, the situation had returned to a “tense calm” and that restrictions on residents had been lifted.
He added that no Israeli soldiers had been injured and that the IDF had been tracking the cell as they approached the frontier. Hezbollah-linked media in Lebanon stated that none of the operatives had been killed.
Mr Zilberman stated that their precise intentions were unknown, but “a cell sneaking into Israel in the middle of the day, they probably were not going to have a barbecue.”
He also denied initial reports in Hezbollah-aligned media that the group had struck an Israeli armoured vehicle with an anti-tank missile. On Monday evening, the Shi’ite group denied that its operatives had sought to infiltrate Israel.
The foiled attack, a Hezbollah member told Reuters, comes as apparent retaliation for the death of a Hezbollah fighter in an airstrike near Damascus last week that killed five foreign fighters and was believed to have been conducted by Israel.
The Monday evening statement by Hezbollah said that revenge “will definitely come”.
Yesterday, the IDF said that a drone had malfunctioned and come down over Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Aim Oassem said that the group would respond to “Israeli aggression” and confirmed that Israel had sent a message via the United Nations.
The IDF had been apparently preparing for retaliation since the attack, and on Friday cleared non-essential personnel from the Lebanese border and barred military vehicles from travelling on exposed roads near the border.
Al Mayadeen, a Hezbollah-linked television network, had reported that an Israeli communication informed the Iran-aligned group that Israel had not intended the death of the Hezbollah member.
Hezbollah has previously retaliated for the deaths of its fighers in Syria, where it has become deeply enmeshed. In September it fired three anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets along the borders.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, leaving Jerusalem on his way to the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, told journalists that: “We are in the middle of a complicated event.” He was joined at the Tel Aviv briefing by coalition partner and Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
Embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is managing the country’s economic meltdown, was also briefed along with President Michael Aoun and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.