Mining for trouble in Lebanon

Syrian thuggery, North Korean mining, Iranian colonization, and Nasrallah's surprise.

nasrallah head 88 (photo credit: )
nasrallah head 88
(photo credit: )
Last summer Yitzhak Goren went out to his orchards to check the damage after a barrage of more than 100 Hizbullah Katyusha rockets slammed across Israel's Galilee. No one was working the orchards those days. The plums rotting under the trees gave off a sweet fermented smell. Branches were strewn everywhere. Yitzhak noted the craters left by the rockets, but one seemed different. He didn't see the bottom of the crater and or the shrapnel left by the rocket. In fact, he couldn't see the bottom of the crater at all. Just darkness. Goren had stumbled on one of the surprises promised by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. It was the exit of a mile-long tunnel dug from Lebanon. The tunnel's mouth was in a stone quarry purchased by Hizbullah five years ago. The dust and trucks around the quarry raised no suspicion. Nor did the North Korean advisors and equipment brought in by the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (a.k.a. Changgwang Sinyong Corporation) to assist the Iranians and Lebanese Shi'ites digging the 100-foot deep tunnel shaft. The North Korean-Iranian cooperation in Lebanon is an extension of North Korea and Iran's conflict with the United States and its allies, a cooperation that also includes the provision of long-range missiles and nuclear research to Syria. Indeed, despite its "mining" appellation, the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation was sanctioned by the United States for missile development and proliferation activities. As for the tunnels, North Korea had 50 years of experience digging tunnels under the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, some 500 feet deep and two miles long. Equipped with electric lines and ventilation, some of the DMZ tunnels were large enough for the passage of a thousand soldiers an hour. Hizbullah's plans were more modest: to send 200 guerrillas behind Israel's lines to shoot up civilian targets and military vehicles waiting to move into Lebanon. Hundreds of advanced shoulder-fired RPG-29s and laser-guided Kornet-E anti-tank missiles were already in place in their subterranean storerooms 100 yards from the end of the tunnel when the errant Katyusha punched a hole in the tunnel exit. The above description of Yitzhak Goren's tunnel is fiction. The description of North Korean tunnels and cooperation with Iran are based on fact. Hamas, hizbullah's Sunni allies in Gaza, had already perfected the tunnel tactic in a small scale attack on an IDF tank and its crew in Israel when it abducted Gilad Schalit, on June 25, 2006. Tunnels dug to Egypt's Sinai desert represent Hamas' materiel and financial lifelines. Earlier this summer, Hizbullah's Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned of a "big surprise" if there's another round of fighting with Israel. Some analysts believe he was hinting at the acquisition of new missiles, possibly even anti-aircraft missiles. But tunnels from Lebanon may just be the "surprise" Nasrallah keeps promising. SINCE ISRAEL'S withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Iranian money, troops and experts have been assisting Hizbullah to build their bunkers and underground bases throughout the country, including a warren of offices and headquarters deep beneath Hizbullah's autonomous Al Dahiyeh quarter in southern Beirut. "Hizbullah is rebuilding underground positions from which they can store weapons and defend and attack whomever they choose," said Toni Nissi, head of the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, The Washington Times' W. Thomas Smith, Jr., recently reported. Just in the first half of 2006, 60,888 Iranian "tourists" visited Lebanon, according to published reports. Hizbullah's military bases, armories, bunkers and communications networks were much more extensive than Israel's intelligence services estimated on the eve of the 2006 war. Israeli news reports have subsequently confirmed the existence of deep and well-fortified bunkers in Hizbullah's "nature reserves" all along Israel's northern borders. Missing from the accounts, however, is the obvious question: If Hizbullah was building bunkers along Israel's (east-west) border, what is to stop them from building (north-south) tunnels - with Iranian and North Korean assistance - under Israel's border? Indeed, during the war one of Israel's TV news crews picked up on their microphone a conversation between a senior IDF officer and a wounded soldier. The officer revealed that such a tunnel was discovered from one position north of the border to an IDF position south of the border. But no further mention was ever made of the revelation. AT THE END of the 2006 war Israel Defense Forces did discover the entrance to a very elaborate subterranean mini-city several dozen yards from a UNIFIL position, some 350 yards inside Lebanon. The fortification contained dozens of rooms connected by phones and equipped with showers, toilets, air conditioning and escape hatches. Last year, a garrulous officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard revealed to the Arabic publication Sharq al Awsat that Iranian diplomats smuggled North Korean experts into Lebanon under the guise of "domestic workers." They joined "hundreds of Iranian engineers and technicians… to build a 25 kilometer (!) tunnel." The officer did not reveal the location but bragged "each opening in this [tunnel] measures 12 to 18 square meters, and has a mobile floor and a semi-mobile ceiling. Each four openings are connected by a passage that allows fighters to pass easily [from one opening] to the other." THE IRANIAN supply of funds, weapons, and training is seemingly unlimited. The Iranian-sponsored civilian infrastructure, schools and welfare systems have transformed parts of Lebanon to nothing short of a full-fledged, Shi'ite, jihadist colony on the eastern Mediterranean. Even while Iran is facing its own financial turmoil (unemployment, inflation and gasoline shortages), hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in Hizbullah institutions in Lebanon. Visitors to Hizbullah areas under construction report seeing many "Thank you Iran" signs. Iranian influence and Islamist fundamentalism may have already undermined the foundations of Lebanon's fledgling democracy beyond repair. And what Iran hasn't corrupted, Syria has. After being run out of Lebanon almost two years ago, neighboring Syria is determined to return and reassert its kleptocratic rule in Lebanon, as well. After all, President Bashar Assad and his thugs seem to have literally gotten away with the murder of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Earlier this month, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora provided the UN Secretary General with details on the Syrian links to the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group that held off Lebanese forces in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon for three months. Many of the jihadists had crossed into Lebanon from Syria, and many were trained by the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. The bottom line: There is no way that Iran, Syria and Hizbullah will honor UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for the Lebanese army to deploy to the border with Israel and for the disarming of the militias (ie. the Shi'ite Hizbullah or the Sunni Fatah al-Islam). These axis-of-evil regimes and terrorist groups will do all they can to endanger the stability of the precarious Lebanese government and to disrupt Lebanese elections. Assassinations of anti-Syrian parliamentarians are shaving down the anti-Syrian majority's numbers. And it is questionable if they will permit the establishment of the special international tribunal to try the suspects in the Hariri murder. President George W. Bush's support for Lebanon's democracy in early October was an important message to Syria, Iran and Hizbullah. "I am deeply concerned about foreign interference in your elections," Bush told Lebanese parliament member,Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered Rafik Hariri. "The message has been sent to nations such as Syria that they should not interfere in the election of the president. We expect Syria to honor that demand." Bush went on to assure Hariri that "the United States is more than just an admirer; we want to help as best as we possibly can." The best way to help is to press back against Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, and that new Middle East player, North Korea. Last month Israel took out a purported North Korean nuclear facility in Syria. New aggressive measures by the United States, France, and other Western countries, starting with stronger economic sanctions, must be the next step. Beyond that, as administration officials insist, all options must remain on the table. The writer served as Israel's number two diplomat in Washington. Today he heads an international consulting company.