IDF begins installing tunnel-detecting sensors along Lebanese border
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IDF begins installing tunnel-detecting sensors along Lebanese border

Military launches effort a year after exposing Hezbollah underground cross-border passages, says it believes there are still no new tunnels into northern Israel

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

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)
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)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday began installing a series of underground sensors along the northern border in order to detect any new subterranean tunnels entering Israeli territory from Lebanon. The effort comes a year after the military discovered and destroyed six such passages dug by the Hezbollah terror group.

IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the decision to install the sensors near Misgav Am now was not based on fresh intelligence that Hezbollah was digging a cross-border tunnel there, but was in light of the fact that the sensor technology being used had recently been declared operational, following a series of tests.

“The installation of this system is a preventative infrastructure step, it is not based on new intelligence,” the military said.

On Sunday morning, the IDF began digging the holes needed to install the detection system, which was recently deemed fully operational. The first of these sensors, which collect both acoustic and seismic data, will be installed near the community of Misgav Am in the northern Galilee. The process was expected to take several weeks, Conricus said.

The military appeared to be widely publicizing this new effort in order to prevent confusion or panic on both sides.

“This is an action that will be seen and heard both in our territory and on the Lebanese side — we want to prevent a miscalculation,” said IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman.

IDF reveals what it says is the longest cross-border attack tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, May 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military planned to install additional detection systems along other points on the border in the future, with the exact number and location dependent upon intelligence about where Hezbollah intended to dig its tunnels and available funding.

Conricus estimated that in total the military would be operating along the border toward this effort for several months.

In December 2018, the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield, an effort to locate and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah into northern Israel from southern Lebanon. In total, the military said it found six such passages and rendered them inoperable — either using explosives or filling them with concrete — last year.

Senior military officials have said they believed that these six were the only Hezbollah tunnels to cross the Israeli border, though the terror group may have been in the process of digging more.

Conricus said in recent months the military has been performing a series of tests on the new sensor technology in order to ensure that it could be deployed.

“We now have technology available that our professional engineering officers deem ready to become operational,” he said.

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)

Conricus said the military informed the peacekeeping United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which operates in southern Lebanon, of its plans to install these sensors along the so-called Blue Line, the unofficial but widely recognized border between Israel and Lebanon.

A UNIFIL spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that the IDF had updated the peacekeeping force about this operation.

“In line with our liaison and coordination mechanisms, we have been informed by the IDF,” the UNIFIL official said.

Conricus said the IDF had also informed local Israeli municipal governments of its plans.

The IDF believes that the six tunnels dug by Hezbollah into northern Israel were built with the specific purpose of allowing thousands of Hezbollah terrorists to stage an infiltration attack on military and civilian targets in northern Israel as a surprise opening maneuver in a future war.

Approximately eight years ago, Hezbollah created a special forces unit — known as the Radwan Unit — specifically tasked with crossing into Israel and causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible both for the sake of the destruction itself and for the “symbolism” of having troops carry out attacks inside Israel.

The military credits the discovery and destruction of these tunnels with removing what otherwise would have been a potentially devastating weapon in Hezbollah’s arsenal.

As far back as 2014, residents of northern towns raised the alarm regarding the possibility of Hezbollah tunneling below the border to carry out attacks, after an extensive series of underground passages dug by the Hamas terror group were discovered under the Gaza border in the south.

Israel has fought two wars in Lebanon, one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorist groups, and another in 2006 against Hezbollah, as well as a number of smaller operations.

Though seen as volatile, the border has not seen significant fighting since the end of the 2006 war.

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