Israel bolsters troops on Lebanon border as tensions with Hezbollah grow

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The Israeli military said Thursday it was reinforcing the country’s northern border with infantry troops “in accordance with the situational assessment.”

The announcement comes after a Hezbollah fighter was killed in an Israeli attack in Syria earlier this week, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite group’s first declared casualty there since its leader warned last year that further killings of its members in Syria would face retaliation. Ali Kamel Mohsen, from south Lebanon, was killed by an Israeli airstrike near Damascus International Airport.

Hezbollah has vowed in the past to retaliate for any fighter that Israel kills in Syria. Following the killing of two Hezbollah members in Damascus last August, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, vowed Hezbollah would respond if Israel killed any more of its fighters in the country. The group fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel on Sept. 1 last year after two of its fighters were killed in an Israeli airstrike near Damascus days earlier. That prompted a reprisal of heavy Israeli artillery fire in a rare burst of fighting between the bitter enemies. Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended in a draw.

Israel is concerned over Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon. Lebanon-based Hezbollah has deployed fighters in Syria as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support Bashar Assad in a conflict that spiraled out of protests against his rule in 2011. Israel has launched many strikes in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war. In the past two months alone, Syria has accused Israel of carrying out at least eight air raids in its territory. The last reported strikes came in late June. It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from Hezbollah, saying its goal is to end Tehran’s military presence in Syria. It rarely confirms details of its operations in Syria but says Iran’s presence in support of the regime is a threat and that Israel will keep up strikes.

Israel’s policy toward Syria since the beginning of the civil war has allowed Iranian proxies and the regime to gain more power, which, according to Israeli officials, has become a threat to its national security. Israel has repeatedly claimed that Iran was building military bases near the occupied Golan Heights and providing military equipment to Hezbollah.

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