1708105896 The most tense day on Israel39s border with Lebanon It39s

The most tense day on Israel's border with Lebanon: “It's strange to know a war will start, but not when” | International

It is the most tense day in four months on Israel's northern border and in the city of Safed, 14 kilometers from the border with Lebanon, there is a background noise that makes conversations difficult. They are fighter-bombers, reconnaissance planes and drones flying over this Galilean city of about 39,000 people, a day after a rocket fired from Lebanon killed one soldier and injured eight others at the Northern Command military base at the entrance. Between Wednesday and Thursday, Israel responded with dozens of bombings that killed 13 people. “I like hearing them. It reminds me that we have airplanes,” says Keren Hodaya Alon, 52, smiling in the kosher wine cellar she runs with her husband.

Alon talks to the journalist, partly because he doesn't have much else to do. A group of 25 people had booked a visit, but it was canceled due to the rockets fired the day before. She and her husband, who disguises themselves as religious nationalists, keep the winery open “out of ideology,” she explains. “Just as soldiers sacrifice their lives for the people of Israel, the least we can do is maintain a certain routine in the hinterland. Even if we only sell one bottle a day,” he says. To put an end to the drop of projectiles, he suggests proceeding in Lebanon as in Gaza: “We need a tough war.” Once and for all. We are in the Middle East and we need to speak the Middle Eastern language. Play with these rules and show them that we are crazier than them. It seems that only we Israelis are forbidden to protect our country with cruelty,” he says.

If I lived a few miles further north, I would probably have to tell it from a hotel on the Dead Sea, Eilat or Jerusalem, where up to 80,000 Israelis remain evacuated from 28 cities closer to Lebanon shortly after the start of the war. When the daily border skirmishes began, they were cleared by Israel to create a kind of buffer zone. The same applies to Lebanon, which has displaced 100,000 people in the face of the most frequent and deadliest Israeli bombings (in which about 200 people died). It's a measured give-and-take that under other circumstances would have led to open war long ago, but in the end it doesn't happen, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste on both sides of the border.

The most tense day on Israel39s border with Lebanon It39s

On the surrounding streets, volunteers in food trucks distribute hamburgers and drinks to the tens of thousands of soldiers deployed. The further north, the more movement of military vehicles. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah often boasts that he is using only a small portion of his firepower to monitor so many uniformed men (many of them reservists) at the border. And having forced a massive evacuation, with the associated psychological and economic damage. “Otherwise these soldiers would be in Gaza,” he said in one of his speeches. It is a way to protect themselves from internal criticism for not doing everything they can to defend their “Palestinian brothers” as the death toll in Gaza climbs to 29,000.

Keren Hodaya Alon with her eldest son Yoshua on Thursday at their winery in the Israeli city of Safed.Keren Hodaya Alon, with her eldest son Yoshua, on Thursday at their winery in the Israeli city of Safed.Antonio Pita

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Maybe soon I won't have to listen to criticism anymore. Israel and Hezbollah have never been this close to open war since October 7, when the Hamas attack sparked the war in Gaza. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant made a powerful threat this Thursday: “Hezbollah has gone up half a step and we have gone up one.” It is one of the 10 that we can upload. The air force planes currently flying over Lebanese skies have much more powerful bombs for more distant targets. We can't just attack at 20 kilometers [de la frontera], but 50, in Beirut or elsewhere. And act in Beirut as you would in Gaza […]. And as the state and the Israeli army have shown in recent months: When we say something, it is because we really mean it.”

On Tuesday, the Israeli army killed nine Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad militants in Lebanon. The next day, rocket fire hit Safed, to which no armed group has yet claimed responsibility. One fell without causing injury next to the Ziv Hospital. The constant rain has filled the hole with mud. All projectiles appeared to be aimed at uninhabited spaces or specific targets and, surprisingly, were not intercepted by the Iron Dome, the defense system against these types of projectiles.

It is the “middle step” that Gallant is talking about. It represented a qualitative leap because Safed is further from the border and Hezbollah knows it has not been evacuated. But not a full step, because they were not aimed primarily at civilians, within the unwritten rules of building muscle without triggering an escalation from which there is no return.

Israel raised the “full level” on Wednesday and Thursday: dozens of bombings, including deeper into Lebanese territory, that killed 13 people, including 10 civilians. Two victims of selective assassinations have been identified: Ali Muhammad al Debes, a top commander of Radwan, Hezbollah's elite force, and Hassan Ibrahim Issa, his number two. They were the deadliest bombings since October 7th.

The tension was palpable in Israel during the day. In the evacuated Kiriat Shmona, the region's largest city, alarms were sounded twice in ten minutes due to the firing of around twenty rockets and a road was closed to traffic to civilians.

Also in Safed. “Do you see this place with tables?” asks Or Attias, a 29-year-old salesman at a pastry shop in the most visited part of the city. “It’s usually full of regular customers. That's about 20 times less than in September, when we were mostly visited by tourists from outside and inside, but they are the reason we remain open. Yesterday it was also full, even when the rockets hit. But later [cuando horas después Israel comunicó la muerte de la soldada] They saw what had happened and practically no one came today. “It’s,” he summarizes, “like a silent war.”

Doron Cohen, in his jewelry store in the Israeli city of Safed on Thursday.Doron Cohen, in his jewelry store in the Israeli city of Safed on Thursday. Antonio Pita

Safed is not just another city. 1.5 million tourists come there every year, which has now completely disappeared, as it is one of the four major centers of Judaism (along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias) in today's Israel and Palestine and is associated with Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism is brought. For Palestinians, however, it is one of the great examples of the Nakba, the flight or expulsion of two-thirds (about 700,000) of those who lived in what is now Israel and who today (along with their descendants) become millions of refugees. Among them is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His family fled Safed to Syria during the Nakba when he was a teenager.

The Old City, full of alleys and cobbled staircases connecting ancient synagogues, shops and art galleries with Kabbalah-related motifs, is usually crowded, especially with American Jews whose travel is funded by a program. All that can be seen among the shops on the popular main street is a raised blind. “You just happened to catch me opening it, I came to finish a few pieces and I'm leaving,” says Doron Cohen in his jewelry store with motifs from Judaism and Kabbalah, such as the Tree of Life or the Star of David. “Of course I'm scared. How can I not have it? Anyone who tells you they don't have it is lying. On the battlefield, one army does not fight against another. They are rockets that can fall on us,” he assures.

Cohen, 55 and father of 10, says that in the early days of the war he always made sure his car's tank was full in case he had to leave quickly. No longer. Now he's content to remove pages from the calendar, which he calls a “strange situation.” “We live the same, but it's not the same. Those who have a job continue to go to work and the children continue to go to class. They wait every day for the war to start. You know it will happen sooner or later, but not when,” he adds.

Israeli war in Gaza, LebanonA street in the old town of Safed (Israel), on Thursday.Antonio Pita

In conversations, one year always comes up at the end: 2006, in which Israel and Hezbollah fought for 34 days. Many of today's frustrations have to do with back then. The confrontation left more than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 167 Israelis, mostly soldiers, dead. But above all with the feeling that Hezbollah had prevailed against a militarily superior enemy. Today it has more and better weapons and men who are also battle-hardened in Syria, where they are fighting in support of Bashar al-Assad's forces. That's why people want a “final solution,” which in Israel usually means even more strength.

Shuki Ohana is the mayor. It's not in City Hall, but in the modest headquarters of Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing party with which he is seeking re-election in the local elections Israel is holding on the 27th, after twice postponing them. They were originally scheduled for October 31st. Safed is full of election posters featuring Ohana's face, with a more relaxed expression than the one with which he chained calls, meetings and interviews with the national media this Thursday. “We are well prepared for what will happen.” We have to find a solution for the northern area. What I expect from the army, the state and the government is that they put the situation right. This drop cannot exist [de cohetes]†. How? “If the political solution is not successful, you have to move to a military solution.” The mayor makes it clear that the evacuation is “not yet on the table” and that “very few” people have left the city voluntarily. “I also prefer that they not evacuate us, but we will have to wait and see how events develop.”

The political solution Ohana points to is the one that countries like France and the United States are increasingly pushing against the clock. There are several proposals, but what they have in common is to move Hezbollah up to 10 kilometers from the border, reinforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1,701, which ended the 2006 conflict and which some and others have failed to uphold becomes. In his speech on Tuesday, Nasrallah pushed back against the idea behind the proposals: “All the delegations that came to Lebanon in the last four months have a single goal: the security of Israel, the protection of Israel.” […]. “If the attack on Gaza ends and there is a ceasefire, the fire from the south will also stop,” he noted, warning: “If they escalate the confrontation, we will do the same.”

In Safed it rains and at times it hails. Yaffa Sahrur, 67, is philosophical on the veranda of her house: “In 2006 it rained rockets. Well, as long as something falls, it's rain…

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