a crane laying a concrete T-wall block at a security checkpoint along a road near the northern Israeli town of Metula near the border with Lebanon, December 4, 2018.
(photo credit: JALAA MAREY/AFP)
A cross-border Hezbollah tunnel has been destroyed as part of the Operation Northern Shield that was launched on Tuesday, the IDF said.
The tunnel began in a home in the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila and extended some 40 meters inside Israeli territory near the town of Metulla.
It was the first tunnel the IDF has discovered to neutralize offensive tunnels crossing the “Blue Line,” the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel published by the United Nations in June 2000 to verify that the Jewish state had fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
According to the IDF, Hezbollah miners took two years to burrow their 180-meter-long shaft through the basalt into Israel. The tunnel, located 27 meters below the surface, measured two meters wide and tall. It was fitted with electrical and communication infrastructure, as well as a ventilation system.
Preperations for 'Operation Northern Shield'
“The digging of the cross-border attack tunnels that the IDF has discovered, before the attack tunnels became operational and posed an imminent threat to the safety of Israeli civilians, constitutes a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” said IDF spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis.
For the time being, the operation is being limited to Israeli territory. Other tunnels may be destroyed within Lebanon in the future.
“We are prepared for all options, and the operation is only in its first day. The neutralizing of the tunnels will not necessarily take place within our territory,” Manelis said.Operation Northern Shield is being led by the OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick
and includes troops from the Combat Engineering Corps and the Military Intelligence Branch. As well, specialists from the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) are taking part.
“For a number of years, the IDF General Staff has been leading this effort, which recently reached the necessary operational conditions,” read an IDF statement.
As part of Operation Northern Shield, the army declared a closed military zone in a number of communities near the security fence with Lebanon, including Metulla. The Northern Command has bolstered troops ahead of all possible scenarios. No reservists have been called up.
While the IDF stressed it is prepared for any escalation with Hezbollah that could stem from the operation, no special instructions have been issued for citizens of the North. The IDF updated the heads of local authorities overnight, and will remain in continuous contact with them throughout the operation.
“We are in full control of the situation, and are determined to remove the underground Hezbollah threat from the northern border. The tunnels do cross into Israeli territory, but the work on them was not complete,” the spokesman said in a call with reporters.
The evolution of terror attack tunnels against Israel and Israel's responses
According to Manelis, the Beirut government is responsible for everything that occurs on Lebanese soil. The digging of the tunnels shows that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is incapable of controlling what occurs in southern Lebanon, he said.
“This is also more proof of the grave violations by Hezbollah, which blatantly ignores UN resolutions, especially Resolution 1701, and operates from villages in southern Lebanon, while harming the state of Lebanon and its citizens,” Manelis said. “The Hezbollah terrorist organization, which is behind the digging of the tunnels, continues to operate with the support and funding of Iran in order to carry out terror activity against Israeli citizens,” he added.
Last week, Hezbollah broadcast a propaganda video with satellite images showing precise coordinates for strategic sites in central Israel, warning “attack and you will regret it.”
While defense officials have repeatedly denied the existence of cross-border Hezbollah tunnels despite residents of northern Israel reporting they heard mining activity, the IDF admitted on Tuesday that it has been aware that the Iranian proxy began constructing attack tunnels stretching into Israel at several points along the border after the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
In 2015, the Beirut daily As-Safir published a series about Hezbollah’s preparations for war against Israel, including its network of sophisticated tunnels sheltering thousands of launch-ready rockets and other military equipment.
According to the reports, the well-ventilated tunnels and their secondary escape shafts were built with reinforced concrete, and are powered 24/7 by underground generators.
In the next war, Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit may attempt to seize an Israeli border community or military outpost. In preparation for this scenario, Israel has heavily invested in recent years in strengthening its border defenses with Lebanon.
These fortifications have included landscaping artificial cliffs and erecting looming concrete barriers along the Sulam Ridge in the west, around Metulla and Misgav Am in the north, and along the Galilee Panhandle.
The Blue Line barrier is slated to be completed early in 2019.
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