The IDF caught Hezbollah by surprise, announcing the beginning of Operation Northern Shield to expose and destroy offensive tunnels dug into northern Israel, a project the Lebanese terror group has significantly invested in.
While Israel’s defense establishment does not foresee Israel’s defensive engineering work – currently only taking part inside Israeli territory – as a harbinger for war with Hezbollah, the IDF is depriving the group of one of its most important offensive assets.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has for years spoken about “Conquer the Galilee” which would have seen fighters from the group’s elite Radwan unit infiltrating into Israel in an attempt to take control of border communities.Hezbollah’s tunnel project was expensive and time consuming
, with a 600-foot tunnel being built over the course of two years. The depth of the tunnel, some 80 feet underground, made the group think that Israel was not aware of their work.
But residents in the North have complained for years of hearing digging sounds, mainly at night, under their homes and in their fields.
On Tuesday, Ruslan Hassan of Metulla told The Jerusalem Post
that a friend of his has complained several times of hearing sounds of digging under his home.
“At night he would hear things, he would hear sounds. So would we, but you don’t really think anything of it, because nothing has ever happened so why would something happen?” he asked. “But we have an amazing army and I’m sure that if there are other tunnels, the IDF will find them and take care of them.”
Ruslan, who was walking his dog Bruno when approached by the Post, said that he noticed an increase in IDF troops and engineering equipment late Monday night but thought that it was another military drill – until he received a message in the morning that a tunnel had been found outside the community.
“I was outside with my friends drinking tea around midnight, and all of a sudden we saw a lot of troops. We thought nothing of it until this morning... there’s never really been anything here. It was a surprise, but we always knew that there were tunnels.”
Racheli, another resident of Metulla, told the Post that the community is not surprised that a Hezbollah tunnel had been found a kilometer or so from civilian homes.
“We are living with problems due to security for many, many years. We aren’t really surprised that this happened – we knew for many years that this was their intention, to infiltrate into this community. It’s easy for them... we are surrounded by Lebanon on almost every side, and that part of Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah.”
Racheli, whose husband was working in the fields where the tunnel was found last week, said that while she had not personally heard any strange digging sounds over the years, she believes people who have complained of such sounds.
“Just last week, my husband was working in the fields and didn’t see or hear anything suspicious – and look, today the army announced that a tunnel was right there.”
The military believes that Lebanon’s Hezbollah – referred to by many as an army rather than a group – is the most significant strategic threat. It has gained immeasurable battlefield experience from fighting in Syria, and its organizational growth is cause for concern to the IDF.
Backed by Iran, Hezbollah is also working to establish factories in Lebanon to build precision rockets and missiles which could strike strategic sites in Israel. The Shia terror group possesses over 100,000 rockets and missiles which can strike most of Israel.
The threat of barrages of accurate rockets onto the home front is something that Israel would have trouble contending with, even with its various air defense systems. Just two weeks ago, Israel’s Iron Dome Missile defense system was unable to totally protect the South, which saw over 20 rockets out of close to 400 hit in urban centers.
But while Hamas might have a master’s degree in warfare, Hezbollah has a PhD.
It will likely take several days for Nasrallah to conduct a full assessment and decide whether to act or not. But according to defense establishment officials, despite his frequent threats against Israel, Nasrallah is not interested in a war at this point.
Nevertheless, the near complete removal of Islamic State and various rebel groups in Syria has allowed Hezbollah to refocus its energy and resources toward a potential conflict with Israel.
If Hezbollah does try to stop or interfere with the IDF’s work by either firing rockets deep into Israeli territory or use a tunnel not yet neutralized to infiltrate into an Israeli community or military post, there may be no way to stop the Third Lebanon War.
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