Yesterday the IDF made a dramatic announcement that it had launched Operation Northern Shield, an operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah terror tunnels and other offensive capabilities:
One of the massive tunnels which was discovered penetrates several hundred meters into Israel:
There was a moment of light relief (for us anyway) when this Hezbollah terrorist got more than he bargained for as the IDF camera self-destructed on his approach:
The IDF released more details about the Hezbollah terror tunnel:
On Tuesday morning, IDF troops exposed a Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel that infiltrated into Israeli territory in an operational, technological and intelligence operation.
The IDF on Wednesday morning released several aerial photos depicting the cross-border attack tunnel that was dug from the southern Kafr Kela area and was exposed Tuesday in Israeli territory.
Please note that the tunnel’s origin was under a cement factory. Next time Israel is accused of war crimes for bombing civilian infrastructure, please remember what this “civilian” infrastructure is in fact used for. That itself is the real war crime.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the following announcement regarding the operation:
The tunnels are only the first step before dealing with Hezbollah’s massive missile arsenal according to analysts:
Israeli security analysts believe that the decision to expose the Hezbollah attack tunnel is a precursor to a larger Israeli operation to remove the threat posed by the precision missiles being developed by the Lebanese terror group together with their Iranian sponsors.
On Tuesday the IDF said it uncovered the “first of what are sure to be many” cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah, as part of its newly launched Operation Northern Shield. The tunnel was found south of the Israeli town of Metulla along the Lebanese border. The army said it was some 200 meters (650 feet) long, extending some 40 meters (120 feet) into Israeli territory.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV later said the IDF estimates that there are some 10 attack tunnels.
There has been some discussion in Israel whether the timing of the IDF operation was in any way connected to Netanyahu’s possible indictment on charges of bribery. Lahav Harkov in the Jerusalem Post explains that this operation has been months in the making. Such IDF operations cannot be organized overnight. But luckily for Netanyahu the timing is impeccable – especially as he was slammed for our inaction over the Hamas rocket attack last month in the south.
Two weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post reported that the chain of events leading to last month’s political crisis came from concerns about the security situation in the north, specifically Iranian involvement in Lebanon. On Sunday, this became clear, as the IDF embarked on Operation Northern Shield to destroy Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels into Israel.
Last month, when Hamas responded to a botched IDF operation in Gaza by launching 460 rockets into Israel in one day, the IDF struck back at Gaza, but the Security Cabinet quickly agreed to a ceasefire without a vote, because there was no serious opposition. The reason? Because they knew their focus would soon need to shift to the northern border. They chose Northern Shield over a southern shield. And they said they would respond more harshly to Gaza at a time that’s better for, and determined by Israel.
A senior cabinet source confirmed on Sunday that the North is the operative priority, and that the area is of greater sensitivity, because of the continuing need to attack when Iran attempts expanding its presence in Syria. Therefore, the ministers decided it was not worth risking a greater escalation in Gaza.
Of course, the public didn’t know that, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman was being slammed in the media for talking tough and doing nothing – including by usually-friendly commentators – and he resigned from his post, saying Israel surrendered to Hamas, and pulled Yisrael Beytenu from the government. This left the coalition with a one-seat majority, throwing it into a crisis, leaving most in the political sphere certain that it would fall apart sooner, rather than later. But Netanyahu managed to convince his remaining coalition partners to keep it together, and while the past few weeks have been challenging, the Knesset has yet to be dissolved.
Throughout the political crisis, Netanyahu referred to a “sensitive security situation” as a reason that now is not a good time for an election, and that it made Liberman’s resignation irresponsible. Some Security Cabinet members agreed that the situation was, indeed, unique, while others, like Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who was gunning for Liberman’s job, said: “There’s no apocalypse, there are enemies. We have always had enemies.”
It’s possible, of course, that Bennett is right, and this operation will be exactly what the IDF said it is – destroying Hezbollah tunnels – and won’t lead to anything more. After all, it is primarily an operation of engineering, meant to take place on Israel’s side of the border. But with Iranian missiles stored in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon, as Netanyahu revealed in his speech to the UN in September, this could easily snowball into something major, and the Security Cabinet clearly chose to be risk-averse.
And Netanyahu is taking full advantage. A few Security Cabinet ministers anonymously expressed frustration to Army Radio host Razi Barkai at being told not to give interviews after the Northern Shield was announced, saying Netanyahu was silencing them so he can have all the glory, while he inflated “a small engineering operation” beyond reasonable proportions.
This operation is advantageous to Netanyahu in its timing, as well. On Sunday, when the police recommended that he be indicted for bribery, breach of trust and fraud in relation to the Bezeq Affair, the prime minister pointed to the suspicious timing of their release. Netanyahu was referring to it being ex-chief of police Roni Alsheich’s last day on the job, but the same could be said with an IDF operation two days after bad news for the prime minister.
The timing is also good for Netanyahu in that it will probably keep the coalition intact a bit longer, which is exactly what he wants. Not only will the coalition rally around the flag, but Yesh Atid and Zionist Union in the opposition are likely to tone down their criticism as well while the operation is still ongoing.
Residents of the north are not surprised at the tunnel discovery, saying they have heard sounds of digging underground for years. My own daughter who used to live in the north confirmed this.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has for years spoken about “Conquer the Galilee” which would have seen fighters from the group’s elite Radwan unit infiltrating into Israel in an attempt to take control of border communities.
Hezbollah’s tunnel project was expensive and time consuming, with a 600-foot tunnel being built over the course of two years. The depth of the tunnel, some 80 feet underground, made the group think that Israel was not aware of their work.
But residents in the North have complained for years of hearing digging sounds, mainly at night, under their homes and in their fields.
On Tuesday, Ruslan Hassan of Metulla told The Jerusalem Post that a friend of his has complained several times of hearing sounds of digging under his home.
“At night he would hear things, he would hear sounds. So would we, but you don’t really think anything of it, because nothing has ever happened so why would something happen?” he asked. “But we have an amazing army and I’m sure that if there are other tunnels, the IDF will find them and take care of them.”
I sincerely hope he is right!
The big question now is how will Hezbollah react. Will they launch retaliatory attacks, including massive missile fire? Or will they hold back? Oded Granot in Yisrael Hayom details Israel’s dilemma in Lebanon:
Every few months, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah makes a point of warning Israel not to attack Lebanon and make all sorts of threats. Last week, he did so using aerial footage of strategic targets in Israel, including the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, captioned “If you strike, you will regret it.”
While normally one could say that Nasrallah’s threats serve an internal propaganda purpose, the most recent declarations appear to indicate that Hezbollah believed an Israeli strike was imminent.
These speculations were likely fueled by frequent statements made by senior Israeli officials, whose main concern is the growing threat posed by Hezbollah’s buildup.
Clearly, neither Israel nor Hezbollah are interested in another war, but recent developments on the Israel-Lebanon border indicate that, given the simmering tensions there, a major flare-up is only a matter of time.
The first prominent development in the sector has to do with what appears to be Israel’s narrowing operational leeway with respect to operating in Syria against Iranian weapon shipments to Hezbollah, in the wake of the Sept. 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defenses trying to counter an Israeli airstrike.
The incident sparked a crisis between Jerusalem and Moscow and the Russian government decided to supply Syria with S-300 missile defense systems, which could pose a direct threat to Israeli aircraft. While those have yet to become operational, Israel has all but refrained from operating in Syria in recent weeks.
The second development most likely evolved from the first: it seems that Iran, whose operational leeway in Syria has also been curtailed by Russia, has come to the conclusion that it would be best if it delivered weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon directly, thus avoiding the more vulnerable Syrian routes.
There is no doubt that these direct deliveries, especially of equipment meant to upgrade Hezbollah’s projectile arsenal with precision-missiles, attests to Tehran’s increasing audacity, as it appears to no longer even try to deny that it is transferring weapons to Hezbollah.
Still, Israeli decision-makers face a complex dilemma. Hezbollah is believed to be in possession of 150,000 advanced projectiles – far more advanced than anything Hamas has – and Nasrallah repeatedly boasts they are capable of striking any target anywhere in Israel.
Moreover, a strike in Lebanon is not akin to a strike in Syria. With the Syrian civil war practically over, Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as the master of the Syrian domain, meaning that while Jerusalem and Moscow may have their conflict of interests, there is someone to reason with if need be, and someone who can, to an extent, curb the Iranians.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is plagued by serious political turmoil that sees Prime Minister Saad Hariri (whose father, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, was assassinated by Hezbollah in 2005) and Nasrallah constantly lock horns.
Given Hezbollah’s considerable political clout in the Lebanese parliament, Nasrallah is the real master of the Lebanese domain and there is no one there who can stop him.
This is why defense officials believe that an Israeli operation in Lebanon – even a limited one – would not necessarily meet a measured response by Hezbollah, making the potential for a full-scale war, which would expose the Israeli homefront to thousands of missiles, far greater.
As for the next step in Israel’s arsenal, will the UN finally step up to the plate and condemn Hezbollah? Israel is demanding such a condemnation, and John Bolton, US National Security Adviser has said the US strongly supports Israel’s anti-tunnel operation.
Now let’s see if the UN can overcome its anti-Israel prejudice enough to condemn blatant provocation from Hezbollah.