Towns Near Lebanon Border Mostly Evacuated as Widening War Threat from Hezbollah Looms
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KIRYAT SHMONA, northern Israel – Israel's war in Gaza is now in its fourth week and is expanding with more military action on the northern border.
Some call this northern campaign the story that has yet to be written.
Towns and villages here are eerily quiet. All of those living within about a mile of the border have been evacuated, displacing some 125,000 people due to the threat of war.
One house in the largest northern town, Kiryat Shmona, got a direct hit from a Hezbollah rocket. The residents were unharmed because they had been evacuated and weren't at home.
Israeli soldiers drive an armored personal carrier (APC) in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, Oct. 20, 2023. The Israeli military has evacuated Kiryat Shmona, a city close to the border with Lebanon. Three residents were injured two weeks ago after the town came under cross-border fire from terrorists in Lebanon. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner)
Hezbollah has some 150,000 missiles pointed at Israel. That's a lot more than Hamas has. The Lebanon rockets are more powerful and can go much further.
Ran Barmaoz, a spokesperson for Kiryat Shmona, explained, "The city has done something it never did – almost a complete evacuation of all the city, 25,000 residents, in three days. That's something we had no experience with in the past and we are glad. It was successfully carried out."
Barmaoz says the hardest thing has been seeing residents evacuating, "because the residents here are very Israeli, very Zionistic, very patriotic, and very nationalist and didn’t want to leave their houses. He added,"We hope that the residents that see this house understand the secure place right now is to stay in the hotels there that we evacuated them to – that they’ll wait until this thing will pass and the war will finish."
Barmaoz believes there can be only one conclusion.
"From our point of view as residents of Kiryat Shmona, we need the (Israeli Defense Forces) to do everything it needs to finish the war – on the south side against Hamas and also on the north side against Hezbollah. and their proxy Hamas in the south, and we hope that they will give them a big blow, and finish with this and give us many more years of quiet."
The empty homes haven't kept Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies from launching rockets and attacks across the border.
Sarit Zehavia from northern Israel's Alma Center explained, "There were a lot of incidents. We understand that the IDF has success in fighting these squads of Hezbollah that are launching these anti-tanks, either by getting to them right before launching or right after the launching. That’s why Hezbollah has around 50 killed until now. But this is all tactical. It’s not a grand plan of Hezbollah. It’s not a grand capability of Hezbollah. It’s not a grand plan of IDF as well."
About five miles east of Kiryat Shmona sits Kibbutz Dafna. Founded in 1939, this agricultural community and tourist destination included Dafna Industries, one of Israel's leading exporters of footwear.
Arik Yaacobi is the kibbutz's community manager. He told CBN News, "First of all we’re in a war. The kibbutz is on what’s called "emergency routine." On one hand we try to maintain our routine, but we’re in an emergency situation."
Yaacobi says news of October 7th spread quickly, and that violence could move to the north. They stopped tourist activities immediately, and ten days later came the order to evacuate.
Almost all of the more than 1,000 members of the kibbutz left, except for the security team.
"We continue milking the cows in this security situation. All the activities are stopped. The hotel is closed, camping is closed," Yaacobi stated. "In the orchards, we are almost not picking fruit because of the security threat of firing rockets. But because of the time that the country is in, at the end the goal is – or in the hour that we are found – it is very clear to all of us that we understand that we are in a different reality, a different threat against the State."
Israeli security expert Avi Melamed says while there's been an escalation here, it's not at the height of Hezbollah's capability.
"Hezbollah is Iran's biggest proxy in the Middle East. Hezbollah actually is massively owned by the Iranians, financed by the Iranians. Hezbollah's military capacities are considered to be ten times bigger than Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Melamed explained.
He believes it's part of Iran's master plan to eliminate Israel. "The Iranian regime present a very serious and severe threat to the Middle East and particularly to the state of Israel. But not only. It's also presenting a very severe threat to the world. The Iranian regime is involved also in terror attacks across the world, is financing and fueling different terror groups across the Middle East and outside the Middle East," Melamed said.
He contends if Israel can put an end to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, it would be a very positive development for people in the Middle East, depriving Iran of one of its "major strategic cards."
"if we are doing that, the story of Hezbollah will now have totally different dimensions," he noted. "In that scenario, the Hezbollah will become less threatening, and this interest in generating instability in war because the other component – the arm of the Iranians in Gaza Strip, in the shape of Hamas and Islamic Jihad –hopefully will not exist anymore."
After the attack in the south, Yaacobi says one top priority for Israelis is to feel safe and secure again in their own homes.
"My hope is that my children can continue to live here, in peace and quiet, and also they can raise their children here in peace and quiet," he related. "The residents of Dafna will return to their home, without fear that – God forbid – it would happen to them like it happened to the residents in the south."
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