IDF discovers the third tunnel since the announcement of Operation Northern Shield entering Israel from Lebanon..
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
In a development that will bolster Israel’s case against Hezbollah in a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, UNIFIL confirmed Monday that at least two Hezbollah-dug tunnels from Lebanon cross into Israel’s territory in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
“UNIFIL has been actively following up on developments relating to the discovery of tunnels along the Blue Line by the Israel Defense Forces,” the organization said in a statement. It acknowledged the existence of four tunnels near the Israel-Lebanon border.
“After further technical investigations conducted independently in accordance with its mandate, UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line. These constitute violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701,” the statement read.
UNIFIL characterized this a “matter of serious concern” and “has requested the Lebanese authorities ensure urgent follow-up actions in accordance with the responsibilities of the Government of Lebanon pursuant to resolution 1701.”
Security Council Resolution 1701, which helped put an end to the Second Lebanon War, called for the Blue Line, the border between Israel and Lebanon, to be respected. That resolution also called on UNIFIL to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in ensuring that southern Lebanon – from the Litani River to Israel’s northern border – is free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the government of Lebanon.
Wednesday’s Security Council meeting, initiated by the US, is a key part of Israel’s diplomatic campaign – alongside the uncovering of the tunnels – to get international recognition that Hezbollah is in violation of 1701.
This is deemed important in Jerusalem because it would give Israel legitimacy if it had to take military action inside Lebanon, and it could lead to the imposition of sanctions on Hezbollah – or at the very least the recognition in Europe that the group is a terrorist organization and should be so designated.
While Israel, the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council have blacklisted Hezbollah as a terror organization, the EU makes a distinction between the group’s political and military wings, with only the military wing being labeled a terrorist group.
The UNIFIL statement said the situation in its area of operation in southern Lebanon and along the border “remains calm.”
“UNIFIL leadership is fully engaged with the parties to ensure stability along the Blue Line and prevent misunderstandings in order to keep the area of operation calm,” the statement read.
Nevertheless, a confrontation between Lebanese Armed Forces and the IDF occurred on Monday. It took place as IDF troops installed 200 meters of barbed wire and after Lebanese forces went on alert, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
The IDF confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that troops had placed barbed wire along the border but within Israeli territory, denying that Israeli troops had crossed the Blue Line into Lebanese territory or that any violent incidents had occurred with LAF troops.
The IDF launched Operation Northern Shield last week in order to detect and neutralize cross-border attack tunnels dug by the Iranian-backed Shi’ite organization. Israel believes that the tunnels would have been used by the Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit to infiltrate into Israel in an attempt to take control of communities and kill as many civilians and troops as possible.
Dozens of Hezbollah tunnels are believed to have been dug along the 130-km. border between the two countries, and the military said that the operation would take weeks or even months to complete.
While the IDF said that it only plans to operate against the Hezbollah attack tunnels on the Israeli side of the border, Lebanon fears that Israel won’t be bound by that limitation and will also operate against the tunnels in southern Lebanon.
Israel maintains that UNIFIL must act to destroy the tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border. The head of UNIFIL, Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col, has called the matter “serious” after confirming the existence of two cross-border tunnels.
Anna Ahronheim and Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.
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