Israel Expecting 'Significant' Hizballah Attack Along Northern Border

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Tensions were high along the Israeli-Lebanese border on Tuesday, a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Israel, Lebanon and Syria to show restraint, following fierce cross-border exchanges between Israel and Hizballah.

Israel has information that Hizballah is planning a significant terror attack along the country's northern border, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday.

Mofaz' comments came less than a day after Hizballah launched an unprovoked missile and mortar attack on Israeli army positions in an area known as Shebaa Farms or Mount Dov.

Israeli military sources said the Israeli army returned fire and the incident erupted into "massive fire exchanges," which continued sporadically for two-and-a-half hours.

Hizballah claims the area belongs to Lebanon, but the U.N. has backed Israel's position that the Shebaa Farms belongs to Syria and should be returned as part of an Israeli-Syrian agreement. Three years ago, Israel withdrew unilaterally from a security zone it had maintained in southern Lebanon for 18 years.

A Hizballah leader in southern Lebanon said on Tuesday that his organization would continue to carry out attacks on Israeli positions along the border to "liberate the occupied land in the Shebaa area," Israel Radio reported.

But Mofaz said that Israel was expecting Hizballah to launch a "more significant" attack than the artillery and missile attacks.

"We have a very, very deep understanding that on the northern border they are planning a more significant terror attack [than artillery and anti-tank fire at Israeli soldiers]," Mofaz said on a visit to the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, where three soldiers were killed last week in a terrorist infiltration attack.

"The northern command is prepared for this," Mofaz said.

Following Monday's exchanges, Powell urged both sides to lower tensions and tone down the rhetoric.

"We're encouraging both sides to lower the tension and lower the rhetorical tension as well," Powell said. "These sorts of statements do not assist us, do not assist any of the parties in the region to try to move forward, and just heighten tension.

"So I would encourage both sides to refrain from these kinds of rhetorical threats," Powell said.

The Lebanese army also said in a statement on Monday that the Lebanese and Syrian armed forces had examined ways "to confront challenges and enemy threats to which both Syria and Lebanon are exposed" and had reached "a unified formula" on the issue.

The statement gave no further details on how the two countries would react to the "threats."

Tensions have been high since Israeli jets bombed what it described as a terrorist training camp near Damascus on October 5, the day before Yom Kippur, in response to a suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Haifa the previous day in which 21 people were killed.

Syria claimed that the camp had been a refugee camp. But Air Force Magazine revealed that the pilots who carried out the attack said that their bombs had caused giant secondary explosions proved that "the place was an ammo dump and full of weapons," The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.