The Lebanese army opened fire on Israeli surveillance drones over southern Lebanon on Wednesday night, raising the stakes in the conflict between the warring neighbours.
The military, which does not possess air defence systems, fired shots from M16s assault rifles at low-flying Israeli drones over the village of al-Adaisseh, near their shared border.
Israel regularly flies unmanned surveillance planes into Lebanese airspace, but it is rare for the Lebanese army to attempt to down them.
It appeared to be making good on a promise to protect its sovereignty after an Israel drone strike on Hizbollah territory in the capital Beirut over the weekend.
Michel Aoun, Lebanon’s president, whose Christian Free Patriotic Movement party is allied with Hizbollah, on Tuesday stressed its right to defend the country "by any means".
As well as having a military wing, Hizbollah is represented in parliament and has become an increasingly powerful force in the Mediterranean country.
The group had already warned that it was preparing its own “calculated strike” against Israel in retaliation for its raid on a Hizbollah position near the Syrian city of Damascus on Saturday that left two fighters dead and a drone attack in southern Beirut hours later that reportedly damaged missile-making equipment.
"We want the strike to be a surprise…and so there is no interest in diving into the details," said Sheikh Naim Qassem, the Lebanese Shia group’s deputy leader. "The coming days will reveal this."
Sources familiar with decision-making in the militia told the Telegraph that it would likely send a drone into Israel in a like-for-like response to the drone attack in Beirut and that it would attempt to target Israeli soldiers on patrol near the border to “avenge” the killing of its men.
It was reported in Israeli media on Tuesday night that Israel had targeted and successfully destroyed machinery used for the production of precision-guided missiles.
The specific targets were an “industrial planetary mixer,” eight tons in size, used for the production of solid fuel propellant for precision guided missiles, as well as an electronic control system for the machine held in a separate crate.
The crate, which had reportedly been delivered by Hizbollah’s sponsor Iran, was temporarily being stored in the group’s stronghold of Dahieh in southern Beirut before it was to be transported to a factory. Pictures from the scene showed two crates on fire and badly damaged.
Israel has been trying to disrupt the flow of weapons and technology from arch-rival Iran to the Islamic republic’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon. It has carried out hundreds of strikes against Hizbollah and Iranian forces’ positions in Syria, which have so far been met with little response.
Such an attack on Hizbollah on home turf, however, will be more difficult for them to ignore.
Sheikh Qassem said Hizbollah deemed it an attack that necessitated a response, but said they were not seeking a new war with its long-time foe.
"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."
Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on Sunday threatened Israel with reprisal, saying: “From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, be prepared and wait for us,” he said, taunting that a retaliation could come in “one day, two days, three days…”
The attack was the first inside Lebanon since the deadly Summer War of 2006, which saw up to 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 43 Israelis killed.
The group has since seen several flare-ups with its neighbour, however it has always stopped short of an all-out conflict.
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