The question still hangs in the air, whether the conflict between Israel and Hamas will expand beyond the territory of the bombed Gaza and other regional players will enter it fully. Voxpot reporters went around the country’s borders with Lebanon and Syria to find out how the country and the soldiers on the border are preparing for a possible escalation.
“If it starts, this is going to be the worst place to be,” says an older, white-haired, sunglasses-wearing soldier manning the checkpoint at the entrance to Metula. It is the northernmost town in Israel, which lies on a hill in a promontory surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. The man’s name is Ethan and he is holding an M-4 assault rifle. Behind him are several other soldiers who shout something at him with laughter.
“They say that I should apologize to them for the rockets that the Houthis fired at the south of Israel today,” he smiles, adding that he himself comes from Yemen, where these Iranian-backed militias operate.
In recent weeks, rockets have been aimed at Israel from practically every direction. It is the Houthis who are firing from the south at a distance of more than a thousand kilometers, from the west they are flying from Gaza, from the east from the militias in Syria, and from the north Hezbollah is launching them from Lebanon. It is he who causes the greatest concern right now.
It is Thursday, the day before Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s first speech since the October 7 massacres. He is also the leader of the regional military alliance of Iran’s allies fighting in the region against Israel and the United States. The speech can thus determine the future development of the conflict and the involvement of other actors.
From the edge of the forest, several more pairs of eyes are fixed on me by the almost invisibility of masked soldiers lying with their weapons in the pines.
I question whether Hezbollah can afford to escalate at all. He thinks for a moment and then says that he’s had enough rockets. After all, the leadership of the organization has been communicating its readiness to fight for some time.
“They’re after us already. Every day we have their rockets or at least salutes from their snipers,” Ethan explains, adding that it would be better if Hezbollah actually attacked. “We can defend ourselves. If they do that, we will not only end Hamas, but also them,” he explains his point of view. He says he’s not afraid. Now is not the time to be afraid. He evacuated the family to the south, and now it is necessary to get rid of the long-term threat. Until this happens, according to him, life will not return to the borderlands.
Forests full of soldiers
As we drive from the Mediterranean Sea through the hills that rise along the border with Lebanon, it is clear that Israel is taking the northern front seriously. Every now and then, rest stops appear in the forest with one or two massive Merkavas, the main battle tanks of the Israeli army (IDF).
“Always be alert, a rocket landed not far from here and now there are some operations going on around that place,” a soldier tells us at a checkpoint at an intersection just a few hundred meters from the border with Lebanon. “You can go there, but be careful,” he says, tapping the roof of the car to let us continue.
Read also: On the border of the Gaza Strip: No one knows what is happening or what will happen next
A few kilometers further on, we stop at a mountain rest stop with two tanks. We get out of the car and go to have fun with the soldiers. Only after half a minute of small talk do I realize that it’s not just the two men by the tanks looking at me. From the edge of the forest, several more pairs of eyes are fixed on me by the almost invisibility of masked soldiers lying with their weapons in the pines.
The incinerator begins nearby. It will probably be where the rockets landed that the guard at the checkpoint was talking about. I will ask how often the rockets fly here. The soldier replies that they are flying. Meanwhile, a smaller unit passes us towards the border. The situation seems a bit tense, so we’d better move on.
While the forests are at first sight full of IDF members, the towns and villages are empty. The zone ten kilometers from the border is largely evacuated. Hundreds of thousands of people made their way south to safety. In recent days, we have met temporary resettlers in Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee, in Tel Aviv and in other cities.
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