Israeli soldiers have begun a major operation to “expose and thwart” a series of tunnels from Lebanon that Hezbollah terrorists had planned to use in deadly raids.
Announcing Operation Northern Shield, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Hezbollah had “spent years digging cross-border attack tunnels,” but was coy about how many tunnels there were or how far they stretched into Israel.
Israel’s armed forces released a video saying Hezbollah planned to “conquer the Galilee” and included images of pile-driving equipment in what is understood to be the beginning of the operations to destroy the tunnels from the Israeli side.
Early work has focused on Metulla, Israel’s most northerly town, with 1,600 residents living within a declared military zone. Locals reported life “continuing as normal” on Tuesday, after the IDF operation began in the early hours near the border.
Additional troops have been deployed to the area but reservists have not been called up, as analysts suggested that another war with Israel was the last thing Hezbollah wanted right now, as it recovers from its deadly forays into Syria.
BICOM chief executive James Sorene said the Hezbollah soldiers infiltrating Israel through tunnels would “cause mayhem” in northern Israeli towns, but that the Shi’ite group now had a “dilemma… whether to attack IDF troops involved in the operation and risk igniting a war”.
The Israel-Lebanon border last saw war in 2006, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people, but the area has remained tense but calm ever since.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was passed in August 2006 to end hostilities. This required Israeli forces to withdraw, and for Hezbollah to agree that the Lebanese state was the sole authority when it came to arms.
However, analysts say the Iran-backed Shi’ite terror group has ignored that, building an arsenal of rockets capable to hitting Israel, and that the group’s political wing now forms part of the Lebanese government.
“Even if the tunnels are destroyed, there is still the issue of 100,000 Hezbollah missiles and intelligence that Iran is helping [them] build missiles with guidance systems,” said Sorene. “A future dilemma will be when the IDF decides to launch strikes to destroy them.”
Israeli leaders say Hezbollah has “violated” the terms of UN Resolution 1701, in part because digging attack tunnels is “a military activity,” and that they will hold the Lebanese government responsible for any offensive actions by Hezbollah, signalling that they no longer differentiate between the state and the organisation.
“We see Hezbollah’s activities as a flagrant and blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty,” said Conricus. “This activity is another example of the negative effects of Iranian entrenchment in the region.”