Minister calls for Hezbollah ultimatum: Withdraw or IDF goes in

Hezbollah has carried out near-daily attacks on northern Israel since joining the war against the Jewish state in support of Hamas.

By Joshua Marks, JNS

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday called for Israel to give Hezbollah a final notice to vacate the border area, after which the IDF would remove the Iranian terrorist proxy from Southern Lebanon.

“A public ultimatum must be issued to Hezbollah that they completely stop shooting [into Israel] and withdraw all forces to beyond the Litani River,” the Religious Zionism Party head told a faction meeting in the north of the country.

(U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 stipulates that Hezbollah is not allowed to operate south of the Litani River, which is located some 18 miles north of the Israel-Lebanon frontier. The U.N. resolution, which was passed after the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah and ratified by both Beirut and Jerusalem, also calls for the Iran-backed group to be disarmed.)

“If the ultimatum is not fully met, the IDF will launch an assault deep in Lebanese territory to defend the northern communities, including ground entry and Israeli military takeover of the southern Lebanese area,” the member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious ruling coalition continued.

He added, “The way to bring the [evacuated Israeli] residents home in the north is through a military decision with a devastating assault on Hezbollah, its infrastructure and the destruction of its power.”

Hezbollah has carried out near-daily attacks on northern Israel since joining the war against the Jewish state in support of Hamas following the Gaza-based terrorist group’s massacre of some 1,200 people in the northwestern Negev. The attacks have killed more than 20 Israelis and led to widespread physical damage.

More than 80,000 residents of 42 northern Israeli communities located 6.2 miles from the Lebanon border remain internally displaced from their homes due to the ongoing Hezbollah threat. Smotrich also stated that this week there will be a “dramatic and unprecedented” economic aid package approved for northern Israel.

Smotrich added that Netanyahu must announce a permanent Israeli military presence in the Gaza Strip, including in the city of Rafah, at the Rafah border crossing to Sinai and along the entire Philadelphi Corridor, the Israeli codename for the 8.7-mile-long Gaza-Egypt border, to prevent smuggling from Sinai.

On Friday, Israel revealed that 50 smuggling tunnels have been unearthed between Egypt and Gaza during the Rafah battle that began earlier this month.

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“Nearly 700 tunnel shafts have been identified in Rafah, from which approximately 50 tunnels cross into Egypt. These tunnels are used by Hamas to supply itself with weapons and ammunition, and could potentially be used to smuggle out of Gaza hostages or Hamas senior operatives,” Dr. Gilad Noam, Israeli deputy attorney general for international law, said at an International Court of Justice hearing on the Rafah operation at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

Smotrich said, “Instead of talking about a withdrawal from the Netzer corridor [the axis separating the north and south of the Strip], additional posts and lines of control should be established in the north, center and south of the Gaza Strip.”

While agreeing with Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz’s stance that the war effort is faltering, Smotrich attacked the ultimatum Gantz gave to Netanyahu on Saturday night in a televised address.

“The meaning of Gantz’s demand is actually the stopping of the war, a defeat for Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state under American dictates that will endanger the existence of the State of Israel,” Smotrich said.

Gantz threatened to bolt from Netanyahu’s emergency wartime government by June 8 if the premier does not declare a plan for the day after Hamas in Gaza, among other demands.

Smotrich’s remarks drew criticism, with a senior security official telling Ynet that the minister is “leading a dangerous and irresponsible strategic line. What is the next step? Conquering Iraq and Yemen?”

Hezbollah has been increasing the rate of its launches in recent weeks, part of a plan to “exhaust Israel” in a war of attrition, Channel 12 reported on Saturday, citing the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper.

According to an article by Ibrahim al-Amin, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar considered to be the unofficial spokesman for the Hezbollah leadership, the Lebanese terrorist group is closely coordinating with the “Axis of resistance,” including terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah is trialing the use of suicide drones and focusing on sensitive targets, according to the piece, an example being last week’s targeting of the Israeli military’s “Tal Shamayim” (“Sky Dew”) reconnaissance balloon in the Lower Galilee.

“What happened during the last two weeks was an initial test of the new plan. Hezbollah has a list of main and new targets that include dozens of sensitive, traditional targets or those related to fighting now,” al-Amin wrote.