The deputy chief of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has warned that all of Israel, “even Tel Aviv,” is vulnerable to the organization’s immense arsenal of over 100,000 rockets.
In an interview published Saturday in the Arabic-language Iranian news outlet Al-Wefak, Hezbollah deputy secretary general Naim Qassem said, “The entire Israeli homefront is exposed, even Tel Aviv.”
He added: “There is no point in the Zionist entity that is not in the range of Hezbollah’s rockets.”
The comments came amid rising tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border as the IDF on Saturday exposed another cross-border attack tunnel built by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory.
It was the third tunnel found by the Israel Defense Forces and the second one it has fully exposed — precisely located, drilled into, and begun preparing for destruction — since the start last week of Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy such underground passages.
Another tunnel, which extends from the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, was located earlier but has not yet been subject to the aforementioned steps, for a total of three tunnels found so far.
In the interview with the Iranian outlet, Qassem said Hezbollah had managed to deter Israel from attacking Lebanon for the past 12 years.
“The Zionist enemy has been unable to carry out military actions against Lebanon since 2006 [the Second Lebanon War]. It has been deterred by the capabilities of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon. The Zionists, in their discussions, are not willing to endure [an assault by Hezbollah]. Therefore, the concept of a war against Lebanon is out of the question [for Israel].”
He added, “Even when they analyze and threaten, they say, ‘If Hezbollah attacks us’ they will react. [That is, they say] they won’t attack first. The rules of engagement that Hezbollah has created in Lebanon have made it very difficult for Israel to even consider launching a war against Lebanon.”
The Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Northern Shield, a concentrated effort to uncover and destroy border-crossing Hezbollah attack tunnels, on Tuesday. That day, troops uncovered their first tunnel, which originated inside the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila and penetrated Israeli territory south of the town of Metulla.
In addition, the military identified a second tunnel, which it said entered Israeli territory near the Israeli town of Zarit, across from the Lebanese village of Ramyeh. The IDF struggled to enter the tunnel, despite knowing its approximate location, and called on the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL and the Lebanese military to destroy the tunnel on the Lebanese side of the border.
As with the tunnel near Metulla, on Saturday the military said it had fully exposed the third tunnel at its undisclosed location.
The discovery of the Hezbollah tunnels and the ongoing Israeli military operation to disable them has raised the specter of renewed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
On Friday, a senior Israeli minister said Israeli forces may need to go into Lebanon to deal with the newly revealed tunnels.
“If we think that in order to thwart the tunnels that one needs to operate on the other side, then we will operate on the other side of the border,” Israel Katz, who holds the intelligence and transportation ministries, told Radio Tel Aviv.
Katz was reiterating a warning made Thursday by an unnamed senior Israeli official. So far, the IDF has been working to find and destroy the tunnels from the Israeli side of the frontier only.
The military said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by Hezbollah as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow “entire battalions” into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above ground and the launching of rockets, missiles and mortar shells at northern Israel.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus on Saturday reiterated the military’s position that it held Lebanon and UNIFIL responsible for failing to prevent Hezbollah from digging such tunnels, in what Israel says is a violation of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and required all armed groups besides the Lebanese military from operating south of the country’s Litani River.
“We expect the international community and UNIFIL to take action,” Conricus said.
On Thursday, Israeli officials warned that Hezbollah sought to send “entire battalions” into Israel, including via the tunnels, in order to seize land, and kidnap and kill Israelis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hezbollah sought to infiltrate “several battalions” into Israel — to seize territory, “murder and kidnap.” Hezbollah’s tunnels are “broader” than those of the Gaza-based Hamas terror group, the prime minister said.
“If you look at the Hamas tunnels, they’re very narrow, basically for one person. The Hezbollah tunnels are broad. They enable several people to come at once and also to bring motorcycles, I’m pretty sure tractors and so on,” Netanyahu told a group of foreign envoys as they toured the area.
This, he elaborated, was “in order to bring in many forces, simultaneously, which means several battalions into our territory, with the purpose of cutting off communities here, towns, kibbutzim, and then going on a campaign of murder and kidnapping, which could happen simultaneously.”
The fresh tunnel discovered Saturday, whose location has been kept secret for security reasons, had been fitted with explosives in order to ensure that it could no longer be used by the Iran-backed Hezbollah, Conricus told reporters.
According to the spokesman, excavation of the tunnel had been ongoing until recently. “It’s a fresh tunnel,” he said. The military did not offer additional details regarding the size of the tunnel.
Conricus said the tunnel discovered Saturday, like the others identified by Israel thus far, was “not yet operational and had not yet posed an imminent threat to the surrounding Israeli communities.”
Netanyahu praised the military for finding the new tunnel. “Methodically and determinedly, we are destroying Hezbollah’s tunnel weapon. This action is just beginning and will require cool heads and patience. We will continue working until its end,” he said in a statement.
Conricus said the new tunnel was located along the Blue Line, the armistice line that acts as a de facto border between Israel and Lebanon, and it was “where we expected to find it.”
The spokesperson also discussed an incident earlier in the day along the Israeli-Lebanese border, in which Israel said three suspected Hezbollah members approached Israeli territory in an apparent effort to interfere with Israel’s tunnel-busting efforts.
Near the Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal, across from the Israeli town of Yiftah, the Israeli military had deployed a number of sensors along the border.
Conricus said the sensors were deployed past Israel’s border fence but still on the Israeli side of the Blue Line and thus within Israeli territory.
“According to our understanding, three Hezbollah terrorists tried to use the adverse weather conditions to destroy or take the sensors that we deployed,” he said. “Forces responded with fire. The terrorists fled, and they did not succeed in taking the sensors.”
Lebanon’s official NNA news agency said Israeli forces fired shots in the air after they were surprised because of heavy fog by a routine Lebanese army patrol.
The number of tunnels the IDF believes the Lebanese terror group has dug into Israel, as well as other information connected to the army’s tunnel-busting operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.