“Operation Northern Shield,” seeking to expose and neutralize terror tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the Israel-Lebanon border was more than a year-and-a-half in the making, the military said on Tuesday.
Operations were currently focused on neutralizing a tunnel breaching nearly 200 meters (656 feet) into Israeli territory near the northern town of Metula. The tunnel is 2 meters (6 feet) high and 2 meters wide, and runs 25 meters (82 feet) deep, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis held a special press conference at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv Tuesday, in which they elaborated on the operation.
“This morning, the IDF launched a campaign to expose and neutralize a network of cross-border terror tunnels built by Hezbollah with direct support and funding from Iran,” Netanyahu said.
“[The tunnels] were built with one purpose in mind—to attack and murder innocent Israeli men, women and children. This is a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty and a gross violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. It is an unacceptable act of wanton aggression,” he said.
“The terror tunnel that was exposed today was built under a home in a civilian neighborhood in southern Lebanon,” continued the prime minister. “Now, this is just one more example of how Hezbollah is committing a double war crime. They target civilians while hiding behind civilians. And this must be condemned loudly and clearly by all nations that care about peace, freedom and human dignity.”
“I have a message for the people of Lebanon: Hezbollah is putting your lives in danger. They are sacrificing your well-being to serve the aggressive purposes of Iran. Israel holds the Lebanese government accountable for all terror activity emanating from Lebanon against Israel.
“Like any other nation, Israel maintains the right to defend itself,” he asserted. “We will continue to do all that is necessary to defend ourselves against Iran’s efforts to use Lebanon, Syria and Gaza as terrorist bases to attack Israel. Just as we have exposed and dismantled terror tunnels build by Hamas under our border with Gaza, we will expose and dismantle the terror tunnels of Hezbollah alongside our border with Lebanon.”
Hezbollah tunneling project a well-kept secret
Netanyahu, who on Monday met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels, said the two discussed “imposing new sanctions against Hezbollah after this act of aggression. I will also speak in the coming days with other world leaders along the same lines, including U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.”
The prime minister said he has ordered the Israeli mission to the United Nations to call on the Security Council to convene an urgent meeting to discuss Hezbollah and its actions. He also noted that the decision to greenlight the operation was made by the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet weeks ago.
Lauding IDF activities, Netanyahu stressed that “Hezbollah knows that anyone who attacks Israel will be made to pay a heavy price. Israel will continue to do all that is necessary to protect our people and defend our borders.”
Eizenkot noted that “since late 2014, an intelligence, engineering and technological effort has been made to track Hezbollah’s tunnel enterprise. This morning [Tuesday], we launched an operation aimed at removing this threat and undermine Iran’s efforts to entrench its presence on the northern border. The operation was launched before the tunnel threat became imminent on Israeli communities and bases near the border. I want to express my great appreciation to the troops on the ground. The IDF remains ready for any development.”
Manelis said that Hezbollah’s tunneling efforts were discovered thanks to the IDF’s “painstaking work,” adding it may be weeks before “Operation Northern Shield” is concluded.
“This operation will take time, and we are preparing for every scenario. Our grip of Hezbollah’s tunnel project is very good. We launched this operation before the tunnels became operational. At this time, there is no subterranean threat from the Lebanese border,” he said.
The IDF believes that Hezbollah’s tunneling project was a well-kept secret even within the Shi’ite terrorist group.
Defense officials said neutralizing the tunnels would take several weeks, during which the IDF will map them out and destroy them.
Bracing for a potential border flare-up, the military has bolstered deployment along the northern frontier, including air defense systems as well as regular and special forces.
IDF Spokesman in Arabic Maj. Avichay Adraee posted a message on Twitter warning the Lebanese army and Hezbollah to stay away, saying: “Your lives are in danger; you have been warned.”