The IDF launched an operation in the early hours of Tuesday morning to “expose and neutralize attack tunnels being dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory,” a military spokesman said.
The IDF said Operation Northern Shield was ongoing inside Israeli territory and involved Military Intelligence, the Engineering Corps and the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT).
A statement said that the IDF had boosted troops deployments in the north in preparedness for any possible developments and that a number of areas had been declared closed military zones.
The Northern Command is leading the operation, headed by Maj.-General Yoel Strick.
“The digging of the cross-border attack tunnels, which the IDF discovered before they became operational and posed an imminent threat to the safety of Israeli civilians, constitutes a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty,” the IDF said in a statement.
“These Hezbollah activities are conducted from the villages of southern Lebanon while harming Lebanon and jeopardizing its civilians in order to establish its terror infrastructure,” the statement read.
“The Hezbollah terror organization, which is responsible for digging the cross-border attack tunnels, continues activity that is supported and funded by Iran, to establish its terror infrastructure against Israeli civilians.”
Chief IDF spokesman Brig. Gen Ronen Manelis said the operation had been launched after “operational conditions had ripened” following years of work led by the general staff. The operation will last at least a few days and will cover the entirety of Israel’s northern border, Manelis added.
The work is currently focused on the area surrounding Metula, Manelis said, but is expected to be expanding in the coming hours and days.
“Boring tunnels into Israel is a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty” Manelis said. “The terrorist organization Hezbollah is ignoring United Nations resolutions – first and foremost resolution 1701 – and is operating from within villages in southern Lebanon, putting Lebanese citizens at risk, in order to build up its terror infrastructure,” Manelis added.
A designated team from Military Intelligence and Northern Command had been working since 2014 on intelligence and technological solutions to tunnels being dug in the north and had developed “wide ranging knowledge and capabilities” to combat Hezbollah’s tunneling project, the IDF statement said.
“In recent years and as part of the deployment against the threat, we have put in place a defensive plan in the sector that includes fencing, solidification and exposure. The aim of this defensive plan is to prevent the enemy from carrying out its offensive plans.”
“The idea is to uncover the tunnels and neutralize them before they become a direct threat on residents in the north,” said Manelis. “We are currently focused on one point in Metula, but operations will expand in the coming days and hours.”
According to Manelis, the IDF has been planning the current operation for the past four years, with the element of surprise being absolutely crucial, which is why the threat of tunnels up north was not something that was widely discussed.
Manelis did reveal that technologies developed while dealing with the tunnel threat in Gaza were implemented up north in order to combat the emerging threat.
On Tuesday afternoon, TPS reported that IDF soldiers had exposed a tunnel leading from Kileh, a village in southern Lebanon into Israel, as part of Operation Northern Shield. Efforts have begun to demolish it. As a result of this finding, the IDF has placed artillery units and called up a limited number of IDF reservists to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon following the discovery of a Hezbollah attack tunnel near the village of Metula.
According to reports, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Monday meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels was focused on the upcoming operation, and the two discussed possible Israeli and American responses to any developments that the operation might lead to.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu had updated Pompeo on Operation Northern Shield and told him that the infiltration tunnels built by Hezbollah are a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty and of UN Security Resolution #1701. Meanwhile, the Security Cabinet will convene later Tuesday evening to discuss the ongoing operation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Government Press Office released a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he disclosed the contents of the meeting with Pompeo. “We discussed the imposition of new sanctions against Hezbollah after this act of aggression. And I will also speak in the coming days with other world leaders along the same lines, including the UN Secretary General Mr. Guterres.”
Concerning the discovery Tuesday of the terror tunnel, Netanyahu said, “the terror tunnel that was exposed today was built under a home in a civilian neighborhood in southern Lebanon. 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.”
He added: “Whoever tries to attack the State of Israel will pay a heavy price,” Netanyahu warned Tuesday after the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield.
“We are proud of the fighters and commanders of the IDF for the complex actions and operational successes already in the early stages of the operation. Whoever tries to attack the State of Israel will pay a heavy price,” Netanyahu said.
“We are taking determined and responsible action in all sectors simultaneously. We will continue with additional actions – open and covert – in order to ensure the security of Israel,” he added.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Hezbollah has been digging tunnels into Israeli territory for a long time. Exposing and destroying the tunnels is crucial and warranted. I congratulate the IDF on their quality intelligence work and the engineering activity that began, and which will continue for as long as needed in order to destroy them.”
The operation is currently being carried out only within Israeli territory and does not involve any cross-border activities, but the IDF said it was ready to deal with any developments that may take place.
Since 2014, an IDF joint-task force of the Intelligence Directorate and the Northern Command has been tackling the problem of Hamas terror tunnels, and in 2015 it began a project to improve the defense of the northern line, including exposing and cutting off the tunnels and constructing a seven-mile (11-kilometer) stone fence.
In 2012, Israel became aware of Hezbollah’s “plan to conquer the Galilee,” as it was termed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The tunnels evidently were meant as the surprise element of that plan, Israel Hayom reports.
As early as 2006, the IDF discovered that Hezbollah was building tunnels into its territory from Lebanon, an activity which only increased after the Second Lebanon War.
Israel also faces terror tunnels in the south from the Hamas terror organization in Gaza. It is constructing a massive underground barrier there that runs the entire length of the Gaza Strip. The IDF says that barrier will be virtually impossible to bypass.
Meanwhile, local municipalities in the Galilee have instructed civilians to continue “business as usual,” and to refrain from spreading misinformation. However, anticipating any possible surprise escalations, authorities in Safed and other northern cities have instructed the relevant authorities to check the readiness of the city’s public bomb shelters.
“This morning, as I assumed the role of mayor, and immediately following the IDF’s announcement, I decided to carry out an inspection of all public shelters… as part of the city’s preparedness for an emergency despite the fact that there were no special instructions,” newly elected Safed Mayor Shuki Ohana said, adding that he “supports the IDF and Israel’s government.”
Members of Israel’s Security Cabinet have been instructed not to speak with the media about the operation.
Hezbollah planned to launch a surprise tunnel invasion of the Galilee under the cover of heavy artillery fire, in an attempt to conquer and occupy it, the IDF said Tuesday afternoon, explaining that the objective of Operation Northern Shield is to prevent such an event.
“In 2012, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed that he has a plan to conquer the Galilee,” said Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus of the IDF Spokesperson’s unit, in a briefing on the northern border called after the IDF launched an operation in the early hours of Tuesday morning to expose and neutralize Hezbollah tunnels crossing into Israel.
“The plan was quite simple,” Conricus said. “Massive amounts of fire to be fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah towards the immediate area by the border, and an additional part of the plan, the ‘surprise factor,’ would be to have elite Hezbollah terrorists to come from Lebanon to infiltrate Israel and try to surprise Israeli troops and civilians.”
“That is what Operation Northern Shield is about. That is what we are exposing today and that is what we are dealing with,” he said.
According to Conricus, the IDF has been monitoring Hezbollah’s subterranean activities for over four years. “Today, we can say that we are aware of what Hezbollah is doing. We know that Hezbollah has been digging tunnels into Israel along the Blue Line, violating Israeli sovereignty as well as UN Resolution 1701, [and is] doing so under the closed eyes or open eyes of UN peacekeepers, Lebanese armed forces, and is confirming what the IDF has been saying over and over again since 2006 – Hezbollah is armed and present in southern Lebanon and is using civilian infrastructure for their military purposes,” he continued.
“Today we have launched Operation Northern Shield. This is the first day of the operation. We assume that it will take quite a lot of time to expose and destroy all of the tunnels, and we will continue to do so until all of the tunnels have been destroyed,” he concluded.
The Foreign Ministry has instructed Israel’s mission to the United Nations to lodge complaints over Hezbollah’s aggression from Lebanese territory with the United Nations Secretary General and the rotating president of the UN Security Council, a foreign ministry spokesman said Tuesday, after the IDF launched an operation to expose and neutralize Hezbollah attack tunnels crossing into Israel.
“Hezbollah is digging tunnels for terror purposes from Lebanon into Israel. This constitutes a severe attack on Israel’s sovereignty and a further violation of UNSC Resolutions 1701 and 1559,” a senior foreign ministry source said.
“Israel is conducting defensive actions within its sovereign territory. Israel has the right to defend itself and is not interested in escalation. Hezbollah acts as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, undermining regional stability. Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and other states,” he added.
The official described the tunnels as further proof of “belligerency on the part of Iran,” which, he said, “is able to fund Hezbollah with the billions of dollars it received as part of the nuclear deal.”
“Hezbollah is committing a double war crime,” he continued, saying that Hezbollah operates from within Lebanon’s civilian population, in order to harm Israel’s civilian population.
“The digging of the attack tunnels into Israel affirms that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are not fulfilling their responsibilities in Lebanon, and that the terrorist organization Hezbollah is in control of the country and abuses civilian infrastructure in order to conduct terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians,” the source added.
Israel, he said, would continue to act toward the world-wide designation of Hezbollah as a terror organization, including imposing tough sanctions against it.
Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon sends a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council demanding they condemn Hezbollah’s cross-border attack tunnels.
“The construction of these tunnels, built by Hezbollah and funded by Iran — alongside the ongoing efforts to transfer arms, convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles and manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon — are a flagrant violation of Israel’s sovereignty and mark yet another stage of Hezbollah’s ongoing efforts to expand its military build-up and further destabilize the already volatile region,” he writes.
(TPS & WIN)
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