Lebanese president tells army to ‘closely monitor’ IDF anti-tunnel operation

After Operation Northern Shield was launched by the IDF earlier on Tuesday, the president held a series of phone calls involving Lebanese parliament speakers, the prime minister-designate and the LAF

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the 28th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan March 29, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally and the head of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), called on his country’s military and security wings to “closely monitor” the situation on the border with Israel on Tuesday, according to the Lebanese news agency Naharnet. Aoun was responding to the initiation of operation Northern Shield, in which the IDF is seeking out and destroying suspected Hezbollah-built tunnels leading into Israel.
After the operation was launched by the IDF earlier Tuesday, the president held a series of phone calls involving Lebanese parliament speakers, the prime minister-designate and the army commander of the LAF, according to the National News Agency (NNA).
“During President Aoun’s phone calls, the situation was evaluated in light of the available information about the Israeli objectives and the security agencies were asked to closely monitor the situation,” the NNA said.
In a related speech, Aoun spoke about strife within the Lebanese government, and referenced Operation Northern Shield, Naharnet reported. He called on all of Lebanon’s leaders to “understand the severity of the situation that the country is going through amid the hostile practices and increasing threats, in addition to the financial and economic damage we are facing.
“It has become the duty of us all to unite efforts to overcome this situation,” Aoun concluded.
The Lebanese Army has said it is watching the situation closely for any provocations.
An official from the Axis-of-Resistance (AOR) – an Iran-backed group consisting of Syrian officials, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah members and others – speaking anonymously, said the Hezbollah military is “on high alert to confront any possible Israeli aggression.” The member of the AOR did comment publicly due to government restrictions on discussing Hezbollah military operations, according to Naharnet.
Hezbollah’s parliament speaker and its secretary-general’s political aide, Hussein al-Khalil, met with other members of the Progressive Socialist Party of Lebanon on Wednesday and commented, “The common concern with the PSP is to spare Lebanon any security setback.”
Hezbollah officials said on Tuesday that the “escalation” from the IDF’s operation on Lebanon’s southern border should create urgency in finalizing the government’s cabinet formation, the Lebanese Daily Star reported. That would give the Lebanese parliament the ability to swiftly declare and go to war, in case of further escalation by the IDF.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon released a statement Tuesday regarding Operation Northern Shield, in which the UN peacekeeping branch said, “UNIFIL was informed by the Israel Defense Forces this morning that they have started activities south of the Blue Line to look for suspected tunnels.
“THE OVERALL situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remains calm and UNIFIL is working with all interlocutors in order to maintain the overall stability. UNIFIL peacekeepers have further increased their patrolling along the Blue Line, together with the Lebanese Armed Forces, to maintain the overall stability and avoid misunderstandings that could lead to any escalation,” the statement continued.
“UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col is in close contact with both LAF and the IDF, and is again urging all parties to use UNIFIL’s liaison, coordination and tripartite mechanisms in de-escalating any tension.
“UNIFIL’s liaison teams are operating on both sides of the Blue Line. UNIFIL monitors the Blue Line around-the-clock and reports all violations of the UN Security Council resolution 1701, which forms the core of UNIFIL’s mandate,” the statement concluded.
The statements were issued in regard to the cross-border Hezbollah tunnel that was destroyed by the IDF Tuesday morning and the presence of Israeli forces near the Israel-Lebanon border.
The tunnel began in a home in the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila and extended some 40 meters into Israeli territory near the town of Metulla, the IDF said Tuesday.
It was the first tunnel the IDF discovered as part of Operation Northern Shield, which was launched to neutralize offensive tunnels crossing the “Blue Line.” That border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel was published by the UN in June 2000 to ensure that Israel had fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
According to the IDF, Hezbollah miners took two years to burrow a 180-meter shaft through the basalt into Israel. The tunnel, located 27 meters below the surface, measured two meters wide and two meters tall. It was fitted with electrical and communications infrastructure, as well as a ventilation system.
“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 spokesman 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, the IDF said.
“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 OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick and includes troops from the Combat Engineering Corps and the Intelligence Branch. Specialists from the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure are also taking part.
As the situation in the North continues to intensify, the IDF will need to walk a fine line in order to maintain security without interfering with Lebanese sovereignty and risking an all-out-war with Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has not yet issued any official comment on the situation.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.