Israel goes on the offensive against tunnels
ISRAEL has launched an operation to “expose and thwart” cross-border tunnels from Lebanon dug by Hezbollah.
The army labeled the operation “Northern Shield” and said all activities would take place within Israeli territory, though they still raised the risk of a response from Hezbollah.
The border frontier appeared calm in the hours after the announcement, despite fear that it could lead to confrontation.
There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.
A Lebanese army source said the situation was calm on its side of the border, as did UN peacekeepers.
Israel released video footage of digging and pile-driving equipment at work in unidentified locations, carrying out what it said were “tactical preparations to expose Hezbollah’s offensive cross-border tunnel project.”
It later published a photograph of a tunnel that it said it had uncovered.
Israel said the tunnel originated under a house near the Lebanese village of Kfar Kela and crossed the border near Israel’s northernmost town, Metula.
Israel and Hezbollah have avoided any major conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border since their last war in 2006, though Israel has mounted attacks in Syria targeting what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to the Shi’ite Muslim group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels on Monday to update him on the imminent tunnel operation.
“Whoever tries to harm Israel will pay a heavy price,” Netanyahu said after returning to Israel early in the morning.
White House gave its full backing to the operation, with National Security Adviser John Bolton saying “we call on Iran and all of its agents to stop their regional aggression and provocation.”
The military said the tunnels were not yet operational but posed “an imminent threat” to Israeli civilians, and constituted “a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
It said the army had boosted its presence and readiness and was prepared for “various scenarios.”
The operation could take weeks.
Its Arabic media spokesman posted a message on Twitter warning the Lebanese army and Hezbollah to stay away.
“Your lives are in danger, you have been warned,” it stated.
In September, Netanyahu identified three locations in Lebanon where, he said, Hezbollah was converting “inaccurate projectiles” into precision-guided missiles. Last month he also hinted at an upcoming Israeli offensive during a televised address, but did not give details.
Last year, Hezbollah’s leader said any future conflict with Israel could take place inside Israeli territory, and there would be “no place that is out of reach of the rockets of the resistance or the boots of the resistance fighters.”
Israel’s vulnerability to tunnels was laid bare during its war with Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza in 2014 when it used dozens of secret passages dug from Gaza into Israel to launch surprise attacks.