(photo credit: COURTESY ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Six months after the Israeli military declared an end to Operation Northern Shield, the IDF has begun destroying the final and largest cross-border tunnel dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory.
The tunnel began in the Lebanese village of Ramiyeh and stretched one kilometer before infiltrating several meters into northern Israel, close to the communities of Zarit and Shtula.
It was the last one discovered by the IDF in early January, the largest and most strategic of the six cross-border tunnels dug by the Lebanese Shi’ite group. Hezbollah had planned to have dozens of armed terrorists attack the nearby communities in the next war with Israel.
The entrance to a Hezbollah tunnel (Credit: Courtesy Anna Ahronheim)
Unlike the tunnels dug by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, each one found by the military on the Lebanese border had different characteristics, with some strengthened by concrete while others were burrowed straight into the rock.
The Ramiyeh tunnel had been dug at a depth of 80 meters and had 20 flights of stairs. The tunnel, which took Hezbollah several years to dig, also contained railroads to transport equipment and garbage, and was equipped with lighting equipment, air-conditioning and ladders.
It will be filled with liquid concrete to remove the threat and prevent Hezbollah terrorists from using it.
Israel launched Operation Northern Shield in early December to discover and destroy tunnels dug by the terrorist group into northern Israel.
The IDF declared the end of the operation in mid-January, saying that it had “deprived Hezbollah of the unique offensive abilities it had built for years as part of its planned attack on Israeli territory,” and strengthened security along the northern border.
During the operation, the Northern Command had been in high readiness, reinforced by a variety of capabilities including twice the number of tanks and artillery batteries stationed in the area, in the event Hezbollah attacked troops during the operation.
While the military has destroyed all cross-border tunnels, some by explosions and others by flooding with liquid concrete, there are several others known to the IDF in Lebanese territory close to the border with Israel.
In March, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon confirmed the existence of six tunnels, two of which violated the Blue Line and crossed into Israeli territory. While UNIFIL said they could not determine who built the tunnels or when, they were recorded by UNIFIL in the area of Kafr Kila, after its engineers used verification tools such as laser range finders to confirm their existence.
Though the IDF reported the existence of six cross-border tunnels, UNIFIL was able to visit only five of them, as one was destroyed by the army before it notified the interim force.
The IDF has repeatedly warned that the Lebanese government is responsible for the digging of the tunnels, saying they were part of a Hezbollah plan to attack communities in northern Israel.
The military believes that the attack tunnels were built as a classified component in Hezbollah’s “Conquer the Galilee” plan that would have allowed the group’s elite Radwan fighters to infiltrate into Israel above ground, fire short-range rockets and mortars, and allow other Radwan fighters to infiltrate into communities via the tunnels, cut them off from main roads, and kill as many civilians and troops as possible.
Thousands of rockets were expected to be launched toward the Jewish state by Hezbollah within the first couple of hours of the conflict.
The destruction of the Ramiyeh tunnel comes as negotiations on the demarcation of the Lebanese-Israeli land and maritime borders are in their final stages, after weeks of negotiations mediated by Washington, Lebanese media reported on Tuesday.
According to a statement from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, Minister Gebran Bassil met with David Satterfield, acting US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who has been shuttling between Beirut and Jerusalem holding discussions on the issue.
Last week, Lebanese officials said that Satterfield had informed them that Israel agreed to the negotiations, and on Monday, following a meeting with Satterfield, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed the country’s openness to “a round of Israeli-Lebanese talks mediated by the US, in an effort to set a maritime border for the benefit of both countries’ interests in the development of natural gas and oil reservoirs.”
Thirteen points of the 200-point UN-demarcated Blue Line, which separates Lebanon and Israel, are disputed by the Lebanese government.
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