Finding ‘6th, biggest and last’ Hezbollah tunnel, IDF ends Northern Shield op
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Finding ‘6th, biggest and last’ Hezbollah tunnel, IDF ends Northern Shield op

Military announces discovery of final underground passage from Lebanon, the largest one found, believed to have been part of plan to send fighters to conquer northern Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • Israeli soldiers stand around the opening of a hole that leads to a tunnel that the army says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group across the Israel-Lebanon border, near Metula, on December 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
    Israeli soldiers stand around the opening of a hole that leads to a tunnel that the army says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group across the Israel-Lebanon border, near Metula, on December 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
  • Attack tunnel dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, which was discovered in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Attack tunnel dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, which was discovered in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Footage released by the IDF on December 28, 2018, shows fluids the army says it used to seal cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah flowing into the southern Lebanese village of Kafr Kila. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Footage released by the IDF on December 28, 2018, shows fluids the army says it used to seal cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah flowing into the southern Lebanese village of Kafr Kila. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • In this photo provided by the IDF on December 26, 2018, Israeli soldiers are seen at the scene of a tunnel dug across the border from Lebanon (IDF Spokesperson)
    In this photo provided by the IDF on December 26, 2018, Israeli soldiers are seen at the scene of a tunnel dug across the border from Lebanon (IDF Spokesperson)
  • Attack tunnel dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, which was discovered in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Attack tunnel dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, which was discovered in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • An attack tunnel from southern Lebanon into northern Israel that Israel says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group, on December 19, 2018. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)
    An attack tunnel from southern Lebanon into northern Israel that Israel says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group, on December 19, 2018. (JACK GUEZ / POOL / AFP)
  • Israeli troops prepare to destroy attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon by the Hezbollah terror group on December 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops prepare to destroy attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon by the Hezbollah terror group on December 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday declared that its effort to find and destroy Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels was coming to an end, following the discovery of another such underground passage over the weekend.

“With the discover of this terror tunnel, the effort to locate the passages dug by Hezbollah that crossed the border into Israeli territory has been completed. The neutralization of this passage will be completed in the coming days,” the army said in a statement.

“According to our intelligence and our assessment of the situation there are no longer any cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel,” army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

On December 4, the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield to find tunnels that it says the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group had dug into northern Israel from towns in southern Lebanon.

The military confirmed discovering at least six tunnels during the month-long operation.

“In addition, the IDF is monitoring and is in possession of a number of sites where Hezbollah is digging underground infrastructure that has yet to cross into Israeli territory,” the army said.

An IDF official said the military also noted that Hezbollah had stopped digging along the northern border during the past month, since the start of Operation Northern Shield.

The army said the operation “removed the threat from the citizens of Israel.”

The sixth tunnel was found by Israeli troops on Saturday. According to the IDF, it originated in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, where another tunnel had earlier been found.

The military said the tunnel extended some 800 meters (2,600 feet), penetrating several dozen meters into Israeli territory, and was dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), making it the deepest tunnel uncovered by the IDF and likely the most valuable one to Hezbollah.

The tunnel had electricity, a rail system to move equipment and garbage, exit stairs and other aspects that made it more sophisticated than the other tunnels found, the army said.

“This was a highly advanced tunnel,” IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis told reporters.

Israeli troops search for attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by the Shiite terrorist group as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow dozens or hundreds of its fighters into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above-ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.

The military said it notified the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL of the new tunnel discovered over the weekend, as well as the heads of local governments in the area.

UNIFIL confirmed in mid-December that at least two tunnels crossed into Israel and were therefore in violation of the UN resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but did not confirm Israel’s allegations they were dug by Hezbollah. United Nations peacekeepers have stepped up patrols since the launch of the operation to ensure the frontier remains calm.

Israeli troops search for attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

UN Resolution 1701 requires all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River. Despite the stipulations of the resolution, Hezbollah maintains vast forces, including an arsenal of rockets and missiles estimated at over 130,000 projectiles, in the country’s south, Israel believes.

With the end of Northern Shield, the IDF said it was moving to a defensive effort along the border to ensure that future tunnels are not dug into Israel from Lebanon.

“In addition, IDF troops and the tunnel-finding laboratory will continue serving permanently along the Lebanese border,” the army said.

The military on Sunday said it was also continuing with the construction of a border wall, which Lebanon protests.

Lebanon on Friday said it would issue a complaint at the UN Security Council over Israel’s building of the wall along their shared border.

Israeli troops search for attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil as calling the Israeli move a violation of a UN Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war.

The report said the complaint was about a part of the wall that was being built on the edge of the Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila.

Work on the security barrier began at the start of last year, with the joint IDF-Defense Ministry Borders and Security Fence Directorate having been cleared and received funding to build 13 kilometers (8 miles) of concrete walling along the approximately 130-kilometer (80-mile) border in order to protect the 22 adjacent Israeli villages.

Eventually the plan is to construct a barrier along the entire border — a project that would cost NIS 1.7 billion ($470 million).

The concrete barrier is designed to serve two main functions: protect Israeli civilians and soldiers from sniper attacks, and prevent infiltration into Israel by Hezbollah operatives.

The Lebanese government has contested the construction of the new border wall from the onset, arguing that it violates Lebanese sovereignty in some locations. Lebanon has filed those complaints with UNIFIL, which acts as a liaison between Israel and Lebanon.

Some areas around the Israeli-Lebanese border are contested, with each country claiming the territory as its own — for instance, the strip of land known by Israel as Mount Dov and by Lebanon as Sheba’a Farms.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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