In a fiery speech from an undisclosed location, Hezbollah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah fell short of promising an immediate full-scale escalation of hostilities on the northern front with Israel. Any future response, he said, depends on what takes place in Gaza and what the level of attacks Israel carries out in Lebanon.
In his highly anticipated and widely watched diatribe, his first formal public statements of this war, Nasrallah said all options were on the table in what he called a doctrine of "constructive ambiguity."
One reason Hezbollah is yet to fully jump into the war is that it is not yet prepared.
"We haven't reached the phase of achieving victory with a knockout blow," he said. "We need to be realistic."
Still, he said that Hezbollah sprung into action against Israel on Oct. 8, the day after Hamas launched the bloody Al Aqsa Storm surprise infiltration and attack operation. Nasrallah emphasized that the ongoing fighting along the Lebanese border is drawing military resources from the fight in Gaza and creating pressure on Israeli society. Half of the Israeli Army, half of its missile defenses and a quarter of its Air Force and are allocated along the border with Lebanon as a result of continuing fighting and in anticipation of full-on involvement by Hezbollah, Nasrallah claimed.
Additionally, tens of thousands of Israelis have had to move away from border communities, causing additional societal strain, Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah distanced the invasion from both Iran and Hezbollah, saying that it was planned entirely by Hamas and came as a "shocking surprise" to him and Tehran as well.
Nasrallah directed a lot of his wrath toward America, saying it is the prime supporter of Israel and was to blame for "all the ongoing killings, massacres and barbarism" in Gaza.
The Hezbollah leader took verbal aim at U.S. military assets in the region, saying American forces will continue to be attacked there.
“The US must be held accountable and pay the price for the crimes perpetrated by Israel in Gaza, hence resistance movements have attacked and will continue to attack American forces in Iraq and Syria,” Nasrallah vowed.
He added that American forces would pay a heavy price for any direct action against his organization.
"Your ships, which you are using to threaten us, we have made preparations for them as well," he threatened. Hezbollah does possess anti-ship cruise missiles, and potentially a handful of advanced supersonic types.
After the speech, Israeli officials mocked Nasrallah:
Nasrallah's speech and his warnings to America came after two U.S. Navy carrier groups and more than 11,000 Navy personnel conducted a joint three-day exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea this week.
“Sailors and naval aviators from the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Carrier Strike Group (CSG 12) and those of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Carrier Strike Group (CSG 2) trained on high-value unit defense, ballistic missile defense, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations, and maritime security operations,” the Navy said Friday in a release.
The two carrier strike groups were joined by the USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) - the U.S. Sixth Fleet Command and Control ship - and the Italian Navy frigates ITS Virginio Fasan (F 591) and ITS Carlo Margottini (F 592).
"Operating and training alongside each other demonstrates the U.S. Navy's ability to seamlessly accomplish multiple missions, deter aggression and support our allies and partners," said Rear Adm. Erik Eslich, Commander of CSG 12.
Prior to Nasrallah's speech, an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said Israel is prepared for any eventuality on the northern front, but that the focus remains on Gaza.
"We are at a high level of readiness, both defensive and offensive, with a high level of vigilance to react to any events that happen on the northern border today and in the coming days," said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari. "Iran continues to carry out subversive, negative activities and pushes its proxies - in its name - with Iranian weaponry which it sends them, exactly like in Ukraine, Yemen and Iraq against American troops, that's what they're trying to do against the State of Israel. They are trying to distract us from our war in Gaza. We are continuing to be focused on the war in Gaza."
Israel continued to push deeper into Gaza Friday after cutting off northern Gaza from the south yesterday.
IDF forces reached the Mediterranean coastline in central Gaza Thursday, according to the latest assessment from the Institute for the Study of War. As we noted yesterday, this was long-planned by Israel. The goal is to keep Hamas fighters from escaping and being resupplied and destroy the vast Hamas tunnel network under the Palestinian enclave that connects the north and south.
As its forces gain more ground in Gaza, Israel is attacking Hamas fighters coming out of tunnels as well as increasing attacks on the tunnels themselves.
"IDF fighters identified terrorists coming out of a tunnel shaft and directed an aircraft that eliminated them," the IDF said. "Thanks to the continued cooperation between ground forces and the Air Force, many terrorists who fired at our forces were eliminated in the last few hours."
"The fighters of the Yalam unit, in cooperation with engineering fighters from the 7107 battalion, the Nahal brigade, the Negev brigade and armored forces, in a variety of special activities, uncovered and neutralized active combat tunnels of the Hamas organization in the Gaza Strip," Hagari said Friday. "The fighters uncovered shafts, planted explosives, trapped and neutralized tunnels in the territory of the Gaza Strip."
An Israeli commander talked about the fierce fighting in Gaza.
"The terrorists fired anti-tank missiles at the soldiers and activated several IEDs," an officer told The Jerusalem Post. "The soldiers fought a lengthy battle with composure under heavy fire, and during the incident, several terrorists attempted to climb onto the soldier’s vehicles and were killed."
A key element of any successfully military operation is the ability to quickly evacuate wounded troops from the battlefield. The IDF on Friday released video from its search and rescue (CSAR) unit known as 699 Special Rescue Unit.
"Since the beginning of the fighting, the soldiers of the 669 Special Rescue Tactical Unit, medical teams and Air Force helicopter squadrons, have been operating under fire deep in the Gaza Strip rescuing and providing medical treatment to IDF soldiers," the IDF said in a video showing one of its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters medevacing a wounded soldier.
To date, 24 Israeli troops have been killed in the Gaza invasion, according to Haaertz. The War Zone cannot independently verify casualty figures provided by either side.
The IDF on Friday attacked an ambulance convoy in Gaza City.
“The terrorist Zionist occupation once again committed a heinous and premeditated massacre by bombing the Al-Shifa Hospital's gate where dozens of people were killed and injured as long as many ambulances were damaged,” Hamas said Friday on Telegram.
The War Zone could not verify the casualty figure.
A convoy of ambulances was transporting critically wounded patients from al-Shifa Hospital to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt when it was targeted in an Israeli attack, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the health ministry in Gaza, according to Al Jazeera.
“We informed the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, we informed the whole world, that those victims were lined up in those ambulances,” he said. “This was a medical convoy.”
The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its ambulances was targeted in the attack near al-Shifa. “The staff is safe,” it said.
Palestinian Red Crescent spokesman Mohamed Abu Musbah said the area where the ambulance was hit was “extremely crowded” with civilians.
The IDF acknowledged the attack
"An IDF aircraft struck an ambulance that was identified by forces as being used by a Hamas terrorist cell in close proximity to their position in the battle zone," the IDF said on Telegram.
"A number of Hamas terrorist operatives were killed in the strike. We intend to release additional information. More detailed information was shared with intelligence agencies who we work with. We have information which demonstrates that Hamas' method of operation is to transfer terror operatives and weapons in ambulances. We emphasize that this area is a battle zone. Civilians in the area are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southwards for their own safety."
More than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed in this war so far, according to the claims of Palestinian health officials.
The Pentagon on Friday finally confirmed that U.S. "unarmed surveillance" drones have been flying over Gaza.
"In support of hostage recovery efforts, the U.S. is conducting unarmed UAV flights over Gaza, as well as providing advice and assistance to support our Israeli partner as they work on their hostage recovery efforts," Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, said in a statement Friday. "These UAV flights began after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel."
Ryder's statement is the Pentagon’s first on-the-record acknowledgement of the drone flights.
Yesterday, The News York Times reported that the drones were “MQ-9 Reapers operated by U.S. Special Operations forces and were first spotted on Saturday on Flightradar24, a publicly accessible flight-tracking website.”
“While Israel frequently conducts reconnaissance flights over Gaza, U.S. defense officials said it was believed to be the first time that U.S. drones have flown missions over Gaza,” the publication reported. “The flights are operating at a critical juncture. Israel is in the early stages of a ground invasion in Gaza and says Hamas is holding more than 240 hostages, 10 of whom are believed to be Americans.”
On Oct. 30, a senior U.S. defense official declined to answer our question when we asked if Reapers are operating over Gaza.
"I have nothing else to report today on U.S. Reapers," the official told us.
Throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Israel has declined to directly provide Kyiv with lethal weapons. It has been a decision in large measure derived because Moscow has given Jerusalem fairly free reign to carry out airstrikes in Syria, where much of the airspace is controlled by Russia.
The advent of the latest Israel-Hamas war appears to have altered that calculus, with Israel no longer giving Russia advanced notice of its strikes in Syria.
A loose-knit group of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq claimed an attack on Eilat in Israel and said it will step up its actions.
The group, calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, said on Telegram that it “targeted this morning a target in Umm Rashash, occupied Eilat, The Islamic Resistance confirms that it will continue to destroy enemy strongholds.” The War Zone could not independently verify this claim, or another one it made that it attacked a U.S. base near the Erbil airport in Iraq. New have reached out to U.S. military officials and will update this story with any pertinent insights provided.
The group also said that “in support of our people in Palestine, and to avenge the martyrs, next week we will begin a new phase in confronting the enemies, and it will be more severe and widespread on its bases in the region.”
It did not provide further details, but did publish a photo on its Telegram channel of what appears to be a weapon in the lineage of Iran's 'Quds' family of cruise missiles.
On the same day Nasrallah spoke, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel and delivered a speech of his own, once again offering U.S. support but strongly declaring “we need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians,” CNN reported. Blinken added that “civilians should not suffer the consequences for (Hamas’) inhumanity and its brutality.”
Blinken's strident caution about civilian casualties came as the Biden Administration is increasingly trying to walk a fine line between support for Israel and the growing global condemnation for the mounting civilian casualties. There is also concern at home as President Joe Biden's approval rating among Arab and Muslim voters plummets, threatening his reelection efforts.
With all that in mind, administration officials have moderated their messages.
“If this really goes bad, we want to be able to point to our past statements,” a senior U.S. official told NBC News Thursday.
The official said the administration is particularly worried about a narrative taking hold that Biden supports all Israeli military actions and that U.S.-provided weapons have been used to kill Palestinian civilians, many of them women and children. The Defense Department has said the U.S. is not putting any limits or restrictions on the weapons it’s providing Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday told Blinken there would be no ceasefire until all the hostages are free, The Times of Israel reported.
In a brief televised statement before the start of Shabbat, Netanhayu said he told the American Secretary of State that rejects any temporary halt to the fight against Hamas that does not include “the release of our hostages." He also said Israel “will not enable the entry of fuel to Gaza.”
Netanyahu said Israel’s enemies aim to destroy the country and will fail. “We won’t stop until victory,” he said, specifying that this means “to destroy Hamas, [and attain the] return of the hostages and the restoration of security for our citizens and children.”
The exodus from Gaza continued at the Rafah crossing, a key border checkpoint between Gaza and Egypt.
A total of 353 foreign nationals have arrived in Egypt from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Friday, an Egyptian border official told CNN on the ground. The White House on Thursday confirmed a total of 79 American citizens and family members were among those who had arrived in Egypt so far.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is news to report about the Israel-Hamas war.
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