KIRYAT SHMONA, Israel — As you approach the Lebanese border, you can smell the fire: the burnt embers of avocado trees, scorched by a Hezbollah missile several days before. This is the “red zone,” exposed to anti-tank fire and mortars; the front line.
Breitbart News traveled to the border Sunday in the company of a local guide with special permission to access the communities and farmland that has been all but abandoned, ever since Israel evacuated its northernmost communities in mid-October.
For weeks, since the Palestinian terror group Hamas launched a massive attack against Israel on October 7, Hezbollah — the Iranian-backed terrorist militia — has threatened to open a second front that would make Israel’s invasion of Gaza more difficult.
Hezbollah is known to be deployed along the border, in violation of United Nations Security Council 1701, which was passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and which requires the Lebanese border south of the Litani River to be demilitarized.
Several Israeli soldiers and a civilian have already been killed by anti-tank missiles fired periodically by Hezbollah in the past few weeks. Israel has responded by striking back at the sources of fire, but without broadening the targets, stopping short of full war.
On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated a warning: “I have warned Hezbollah: Do not make a mistake and enter the war because this will be the mistake of your lives. Your entry into the war will decide Lebanon’s fate.”
Defense minister Yoav Gallant echoed those sentiments, warning that the Israeli Air Force was focused on Lebanon, not Gaza. He added: “The citizens of Lebanon should know that if [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah makes a mistake, the fate of Beirut will be similar to that of Gaza.”
It was not an empty threat.
Israel has turned its own side of the border into a fortified military zone. Troops sit in dugouts on land near the border, ready to engage any invading force; tanks idle in the shade of trees, ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile, Israel’s border communities sit empty. Kiryat Shmona, normally bustling with students, tourists, and agricultural workers, is now a ghost town. A burned-out storefront explains why: it was hit by a rocket that evaded the Iron Dome system.
In the farmlands, ripe avocados hang from the trees. No one will be able to pick them; the area is now a closed military zone, and the Thai farmworkers who typically manage the harvest have returned home, abandoning their tools among the fruit-laden trees.
A few local farmers are allowed access to the fields for a few hours a day to perform basic maintenance, like checking irrigation equipment and feeding animals. But roads near the border have been closed, strung with razor wire and barbed wire.
From a local hillside, a fresh fire can be seen, burning where a missile landed the night before. Above, overhead, there is the buzz of an Israeli military drone, monitoring Hezbollah positions near the border and poised to strike, if the terror group shoots first.
As devastating as war would be for the border communities, many residents believe that unless Hezbollah is eliminated, it will not be safe to return. No one wants to suffer the risk of what befell the communities near Gaza.
Until then, Israel watches, and waits.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.