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)
Israel does not share a common border with Iran, but it does share a border with Iran’s proxies. That border in the North is being breached. Hezbollah, working on Iran’s behalf, has apparently been building tunnels in Israeli sovereign territory for the past few years. The purpose of these tunnels – built from inside homes and buildings in southern Lebanese villages – is clearly not peaceful. Among the possibilities that Israeli authorities are taking seriously are that apart from being used like their Hamas-constructed southern counterparts to kill or abduct citizens and soldiers, they could be used as part of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threats to “conquer the Galilee.”
Yesterday, Israel launched a complicated campaign to neutralize the tunnel threat from Lebanon. The fact that the IDF gave the operation a name – Northern Shield – suggests that this is not expected to be a simple one-day operation.
All eyes are now on the North, and on how Hezbollah and Iran might react. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stressed that the army’s activity, which started in the area of Metulla, is taking place on the Israeli side of the border. This is to explain both why the operation is necessary and to stress that Hezbollah has no right to use this as a casus belli.
Over the weekend, Nasrallah released a video featuring what it obviously wanted to threaten as potential targets in Israel, including the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, an oil refinery, and the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. Nasrallah warned: “There will be a response to every Israeli attack in Lebanon.”
The IDF and Israel cannot afford to be complacent about the threats facing the country. Nor can they be deterred by the rhetoric of a terrorist organization.
Faced with both the ongoing influx of Iranian arms to Hezbollah – including precision-guided missiles – and the tunnel threat, including the construction of subterranean factories to produce sophisticated rockets, Israel cannot sit back. It is possible that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was referring to the northern situation when he decided to keep the defense portfolio in his hands, after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s resignation last month. He called on Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett not to topple the government over not being given the top defense government position. Netanyahu said at the time, shortly after the massive round of missiles launched from Gaza: “We are in one of the most complicated security situations ever, and in a situation like that you don’t overthrow a government, you don’t go to elections. It’s irresponsible.”
Lebanon, which recently marked its 75th anniversary, has little to celebrate and has been unable to put together a government since the May elections. This strengthens Hezbollah’s role as the dominant force in Lebanon. It also strengthens Iran’s control of the country.
Hezbollah, like Hamas, is using the local population as human shields. In October, the IDF uncovered an observation post used by Hezbollah on the northern border under the guise of the fictitious environmental NGO “Green Without Borders,” the sixth such post discovered in recent years. This raises the obvious question of what exactly UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, is actually doing there and what the UN and world community are doing to prevent another serious conflagration in the region.
Last week, Dr. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Foreign Ministry director-general, called on the UN Security Council to act in accordance with Resolution 1701, which dates to the Second Lebanon War in 2006, to clean out the illegal weapons held by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
“There are about 200 Shiite villages in southern Lebanon,” said Gold. “In their homes, many residents have prohibited weapons. They accept payment for it or are simply too frightened to refuse the terrorists’ request.”
It is likely that the upcoming operation was one of the main topics on the agenda when Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels on Monday. Former National Security Council chief Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a senior fellow at the INSS think tank, told Israel Radio that it was no less important to gain strong diplomatic support ahead of such an operation than to be prepared militarily.
Hezbollah’s terror tunnels stretching into Israel’s North cross a red line. Israel has not only the right but the duty to act to defend itself.
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