Israeli Defense Forces launched air and ground attacks into southern Lebanon in response to strikes launched by the militant Hezbollah group on the disputed Golan Heights.
The violence was the deadliest Hezbollah attack against Israeli forces since a 2006 war between the two sides.
The United Nations urged all parties to use «maximum restraint» to prevent an escalation.
The IDF said the Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military convoy near the Shebaa Farms area of the Golan Heights killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven, two of them moderately.
The United Nations also confirmed a peacekeeper, a Spanish soldier, was killed in southern Lebanon as the Israeli military and Hezbollah traded fire in the region.
Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the attack by Hezbollah involved anti-tank missiles fired at a military convoy on Mount Dov, along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that it will take all necessary measures to defend itself after an exchange of fire.
«Israel will not stand by as Hezbollah targets Israelis,» Prosor said in a letter to the Security Council. He also urged the 15-member council to «unequivocally and publically condemn Hezbollah» in a letter also sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that Israel was prepared to respond forcefully as it did in its offensive six months ago against Hamas-led militants in Gaza.
Netanyahu said, «I suggest that all those who are challenging us on our northern border, look at what happened in Gaza, not far from the city of Sderot.
«Hamas suffered the most serious blow since it was founded this past summer,» he added.
More than 2,000 people died in the 50 days of rocket and missile exchanges between Israel and Hamas, which is allied to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s statement suggested the strike on the convoy Wednesday was in retaliation for an airstrike, believed to have been carried out by Israel, that killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general earlier this month in Syria.
A similar Hezbollah strike eight years ago led to a month-long Israeli invasion of Lebanon that killed hundreds of people.
Fighting could escalate
A former head of operations in the Israeli military, retired Major-General Israel Zvi, said the conflict could escalate if there are many Israeli casualties.
«Overall in [an] attrition war, it very much depends on incidents. It is kind of a strategy of incidents. You have to take your decision following each event, especially if you try to contain and not to escalate,» Zvi said.
«I do believe that Israel understands that it needs to contain it,» he said, adding Israel should not take any «steps that would pull us into the chaotic situation in Syria.»
Zvi said Hezbollah staged its strike in the Shebaa Farms area, rather than neighboring Syria, where previous clashes have occurred, because it is claimed by Lebanon and that may provide some legitimacy for its action.
Israel said the Shebaa Farms area is part of the Golan Heights it seized from Syria in the 1967 War. Syria and Lebanon say the area is part of Lebanon.
Tensions in the region, where the frontiers of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet and militant groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are active, have been bubbling for months but have boiled over in the past 10 days.
Hezbollah supports Assad and has sent fighters to aid Syrian forces in that country’s nearly four-year civil war. Some fighting has spilled over the Israeli-Syria border, particularly in the Golan Heights area.
However, regional analysts said they did not expect events to spiral.
“Netanyahu most likely realizes that a prolonged military engagement in Lebanon could cost him the [March 17] election,” Ayham Kamel and Riccardo Fabiani of the Eurasia Group told Reuters news agency.
“Instead, Israel will pursue limited actions targeting Hezbollah in Lebanon, but the low-scale, tit-for-tat exchanges will not broaden into a wider war.”
Earlier Wednesday, Israel announced fresh airstrikes overnight against Syrian artillery positions that were themselves a response to rockets from Syria that hit Golan on Tuesday.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the air force raids send a clear message, and that Israel holds the Syrian government responsible for attacks that originate from inside its borders.
«We will not tolerate any firing towards Israeli territory or violation of our sovereignty and we will respond forcefully and with determination,» he said.
Israel has conducted multiple airstrikes in Syria during the country’s nearly four-year civil war, though the military rarely confirms them.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.