IDF: Hezbol­lah planned for tun­nel to cut off Me­tulla

Ter­ror­ists had been work­ing in pas­sage­way un­til mo­ment Oper­a­tion North­ern Shield was launched

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

The cross-bor­der Hezbol­lah tun­nel dis­cov­ered early Tues­day morn­ing by the IDF out­side of Me­tulla would have been used by the ter­ror­ist group to send ter­ror­ists from their elite Rad­wan unit to cut the com­mu­nity off from Route 90, a se­nior IDF of­fi­cer said on Wed­nes­day.

Speak­ing to re­porters me­ters away from the Hezbol­lah tun­nel, the of­fi­cer said that the mil­i­tary de­cided to launch Oper­a­tion North­ern Shield to ex­pose and de­stroy cross-bor­der Hezbol­lah at­tack tun­nels be­fore they were op­er­a­tional, and posed an im­mi­nent and di­rect threat to Is­rael be­cause “the tun­nels were some­thing that we could not wait to deal with un­til a war were to break out.”

The tun­nel dis­cov­ered Tues­day morn­ing stretched from a res­i­den­tial struc­ture in the south of the Le­banese vil­lage of Kfar Kela and in­fil­trated some 40 me­ters into kiwi and ap­ple or­chards be­long­ing to the com­mu­nity of Me­tulla.

The se­nior of­fi­cer stated that the el­e­ment of sur­prise was a ma­jor com­po­nent of the oper­a­tion and that Hezbol­lah ter­ror­ists had been work­ing on the tun­nel out­side Me­tulla un­til the mo­ment the IDF an­nounced the oper­a­tion had be­gun.

Shortly after the be­gin­ning of the oper­a­tion, the IDF placed a cam­era some 25 me­ters into the tun­nel and mo­ments later saw two ter­ror­ists ap­proach­ing the cam­era which had a small bomb at­tached to it which then det­o­nated lead­ing the ter­ror­ists to re­treat.

It was the first time that the IDF ac­tu­ally saw Hezbol­lah ter­ror­ists in­side a tun­nel, the of­fi­cer said.

Hezbol­lah, he said, chose the res­i­den­tial build­ing which was used to make bricks be­cause of its strate­gic lo­ca­tion, in prox­im­ity to a UNIFIL post, hid­den be­hind the se­cu­rity wall and not vis­i­ble from Is­rael. Is­raeli jets, he said, no­ticed dozens of trucks go­ing in and out of the build­ing and driv­ing some 10-12 kilo­me­ters to dis­pose of the ma­te­rial.

UNIFIL, the se­nior of­fi­cer said, was “sur­prised” about the dis­cov­ery of the tun­nel and has met with both the IDF and Le­banese Armed Forces on the is­sue.

On Wed­nes­day, an IDF team led by head of the IDF In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Unit, Brig.-Gen. Erez Maisel par­tic­i­pated in a pre-sched­uled tri­lat­eral meet­ing headed by Maj.-Gen. Ste­fano del Col, head of the UNIFIL Force and mis­sion com­man­der, with a team from the Le­banese Armed Forces.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by the IDF, while the meet­ing took place “ac­cord­ing to es­tab­lished rou­tine,” it fo­cused on Hezbol­lah’s cross-bor­der at­tack tun­nel.

“The IDF ex­pressed its protests re­gard­ing the se­vere vi­o­la­tion of Is­raeli sovereignty and UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1701,” read the state­ment.

The mil­i­tary said that it took Hezbol­lah around two years to build the 200-me­ter-long

tun­nel and be­lieves that there are longer tun­nels along the 130 kilo­me­ter-long bor­der be­tween Is­rael and Le­banon.

Ac­cord­ing to the se­nior of­fi­cer, the dis­cov­ery of the tun­nel out­side Me­tulla was not “a Hanukkah mir­a­cle” but rather the cul­mi­na­tion of years of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal in­vest­ment by the IDF.

While Hezbol­lah has worked on their tun­nel project for years with the be­lief that Is­rael was in t he dark, the of­fi­cer stated that over the past year Is­rael Air Force plat­forms have been sur­vey­ing the bor­der area and gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence about pos­si­ble tun­nel lo­ca­tions.

“Hezbol­lah has low­ered their pro­file tremen­dously since we started the oper­a­tion,” he said. “They still don’t fully un­der­stand how much we know about their project.”

While Hezbol­lah has cur­rently stopped work­ing on the project, mak­ing it harder for IDF troops to find the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the tun­nels, the of­fi­cer stressed that the mil­i­tary will con­tinue un­til all ob­jec­tives are met.

If the group de­cides to re­spond to the IDF’s en­gi­neer­ing work ei­ther by tar­get­ing troops tak­ing part in the oper­a­tion or launch­ing rock­ets towards the home front, Is­rael has mil­i­tary op­tions ready, the se­nior of­fi­cer said.

Of­fi­cials in the de­fense es­tab­lish­ment have stressed that Is­rael’s in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally since the Sec­ond Le­banon War in 2006 and that the IDF has a sig­nif­i­cantly higher num­ber of tar­gets in the North if an­other war were to break out. •

(IDF)

A SOL­DIER stands watch over the en­gi­neer­ing ma­chine look­ing for Hezbol­lah tun­nels near the bor­der with Le­banon yes­ter­day.

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