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IDF soldier on of the Blue Line on Israel’s northern border. Credit IDF

Tensions are skyrocketing along Israel’s border with Lebanon in the aftermath of the assassination of senior Hamas official Saleh Al Arouri in Beirut on Jan. 2.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed yesterday that time is running out on diplomatic efforts to end tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, implying that Israel will launch a major military offensive into southern Lebanon in the near term. “We prefer the path of an agreed-upon diplomatic settlement, but we are getting close to the point where the hourglass will turn over,” Gallant said during a situational assessment at the IDF’s Northern Command base.

In a speech on Jan. 5, Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah warned that retaliation for the Al Arouri killing is definitely coming, saying: “We cannot keep silent about a violation of this seriousness, because this means that all of our people will be exposed (to targeting). All of our cities, villages and public figures will be exposed.” The repercussions of silence are “far greater” than the risks of retaliating, he added.

Hezbollah’s retaliation seems to have begun this morning, as it fired dozens of rockets at northern Israel, warning that the barrage was its initial response. Hezbollah said that it launched 62 rockets toward an air surveillance base on Mount Meron and that it scored direct hits. The Israeli military said that about 40 rockets were fired toward the area of Meron, but made no mention of a base. It said Israel struck the cell that fired the rockets.

EU Commission Vice President and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, on a visit to Lebanon today, warned against any such escalation. He said during a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that it was imperative to avoid a regional escalation in the Middle East, and warned Israel that “nobody will win from a regional conflict,” quoted Reuters. “We are seeing a worrying intensification of exchange of fire across the Blue Line,” he remarked, referring to the de facto border between the two countries that was drawn following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.