Israel says operation on border complete
U.S. envoy meets Lebanese officials regarding Hezbollah’s ‘destabilizing activities’
BEIRUT: Israel announced Sunday that it completed Operation Northern Shield after uncovering all alleged Hezbollah tunnels, as a top U.S. envoy arrived in Beirut to discuss Hezbollah’s activities with Lebanese officials.
The Israeli announcement came as United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale – the No. 3 at the U.S. State Department – held meetings with top Lebanese security and military officials Sunday, where the situation along the border with Israel was among the topics discussed.
The Israeli army’s Arabic spokesperson Avichay Adraee tweeted that Israel had discovered the last tunnel, which Israel claims were dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel. The tunnel, discovered Saturday night, was said to start in the Lebanese town of Ramaya in Bint Jbeil.
“With the discovery of the terrorist tunnel, all tunnels dug by Hezbollah into Israel were uncovered. The tunnel will be destroyed in the next few days,” Adraee said.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus declined to say how many tunnels had been discovered in total, but the Israeli army has announced six since Operation Northern Shield was launched in early December.
The United Nation’s peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon has confirmed the existence of at least four tunnels so far but has not commented on who built them.
Conricus said UNIFIL has been notified of the sixth alleged tunnel, adding that it reached a few dozen meters into Israel and that at 55 meters underground, it was the deepest, “longest and most detailed” of all the tunnels the army had exposed.
It included stairs, a rail system and a wide passageway that allowed for the movement of equipment and a large number of forces.
Conricus said there were no more tunnels reaching Israel from Lebanon but the army was still monitoring “facilities” supposedly being dug by Hezbollah inside Lebanese territory.
“We are … approaching the completion of the goal we set at the outset of Operation Northern Shield: the eradication of Hezbollah’s tunnels weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of a Cabinet meeting.
Hezbollah has not made any comment on the tunnels.
Meanwhile, Hale met with General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, after he sat down with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt shortly after his arrival Saturday.
A General Security statement said that Ibrahim and Hale spoke about “the tension resulting from the Israeli enemy’s … building of a wall in a disputed border area with Lebanon.”
Israeli forces Thursday had placed 25 cement blocks near the settlement of Miskaf Aam, opposite the Lebanese town of Adaisseh. Six of the blocks were placed on disputed points. Israeli forces continued work on a cement wall in a disputed border area near the Lebanese town of Adaisseh, local sources told The Daily Star Sunday.
The two officials also discussed the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel.
Last year, Lebanon’s first offshore licensing round saw parts of two maritime energy blocks awarded to a consortium of three international oil companies.
Part of one of the blocks, which contains potential offshore oil and gas reserves, has been claimed by Israel. The broader dispute concerns a triangular area of sea measuring around 860 square kilometers.
During his meeting earlier in the day with Aoun, Hale discussed American aid to the Lebanese Army and other forms of military cooperation, according to an Army statement.
Shortly after arriving in Beirut, Hale and Joumblatt met at the latter’s Clemenceau residence, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard and an American delegation. Joumblatt’s son and leader of the PSP’s parliamentary block MP Teymour Joumblatt also attended the meeting, along with caretaker Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh and MPs Akram Chehayeb and Wael Abu Faour.
Hale will meet with President Michel Aoun Monday morning, a source at Baabda Palace said.
Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, a member of Hezbollah’s central council, said Sunday that “the U.S. visit to Lebanon and the region will not change anything.”
“America will not have any political gain in Lebanon at the expense of the resistance,” he added.
A statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon Saturday said Hale’s visit would focus on underscoring his country’s concerns regarding Hezbollah’s “destabilizing activities in Lebanon and the region, including the recent discovery of Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.”
The statement added that Hale hopes to reaffirm his country’s strong support for Lebanon, “including its legitimate security institutions as it continues to cope with significant challenges.” – The Daily Star, agencies
UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol the border with Israel in the Lebanese southern village of Adaisseh.