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Netanyahu warns Hezbollah to "calm down" as Lebanon accuses Israel of "declaration of war"

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspects the site where an off-duty Israeli soldier was found dead with stab wounds near the settlement of Migdal Oz in the occupied West Bank, Aug. 8, 2019. Getty

Jerusalem — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned Lebanon, Hezbollah's chief and the head of Iran's elite Quds Force to "be careful" with their words and actions. With tension mounting on the Israeli border, Netanyahu said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah "knows very well that the state of Israel knows how to defend itself well, and to repay its enemies."

"I want to say to him and the Lebanese state, which is hosting this organization that aims to destroy us, and I say the same to Qassem Soleimani: Be careful about your words, and even more cautious about your actions."

He said Nasrallah should "calm down."

A "declaration of war"

Netanyahu spoke after a series of incidents in recent days that have raised tensions between Israel, Lebanon, Iran and Tehran-backed Hezbollah.

Nasrallah has accused Israel of being behind a drone attack on the Lebanese Shiite movement's Beirut stronghold on Sunday and threatened retaliation. He called it the first such "hostile action" since a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun called it a "declaration of war," and the Lebanese National Defense Council was expected to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday. 

Lebanon's leader, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, reportedly told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the purported Israeli attack in Beirut threatened a dangerous escalation, with unpredictable results.   

A Lebanese army soldier walks past military intelligence forensic investigators inspecting the scene where two drones came down in the vicinity of a media center of the Shiite Hezbollah movement earlier in the day, in the capital Beirut, Aug. 25, 2019. Getty

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the Beirut attacks, but Netanyahu said Monday that his country was ready to use "all means necessary" to defend itself against Iranian threats "on several fronts."

Later Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israeli territory, and the "Israeli army retaliated."  The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip is controlled by the Hamas group, which is also supported by Iran.

"Be prepared and wait for us"

Hours after the drones struck Beirut over the weekend, with one blowing up and one failing to detonate according to Hezbollah, the group's leader Nasrallah threatened retaliation.

"From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, be prepared and wait for us," he said in a televised address. That remark drew Netanyahu's warning to "calm down."  

Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah movement gather to watch the transmission on a large screen of a speech by the movement's leader Hasan Nasrallah, in the town of Al-Ain in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, Aug. 25, 2019, during an event organized by the group. Getty

Israeli troops along the country's border with Lebanon were on high alert amid the escalating rhetoric but, notably, Arabic network reporters in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has a significant presence, noted no significant mobilization of forces as of Tuesday. 

Hours before the Beirut incident, Israel announced it had carried out a strike in neighboring Syria to thwart what it said was a plan by an Iranian force to attack its territory with drones.

On Monday, a pro-Syrian Palestinian group accused Israel of carrying out a drone attack on one of its positions in Lebanon.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria targeting what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

Iran and Hezbollah, along with Russia, have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's civil war.

Netanyahu has pledged to stop Israel's arch-enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.

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