IDF destroys Hezbollah ‘flagship’ attack tunnel after studying it

IDF destroys Hezbollah ‘flagship’ attack tunnel after studying it

Military fills underground passage with cement, ensuring it can’t be used, says it’s deprived Lebanese terror group of central aspect of attack plans

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

The Israeli military on Thursday completed the destruction of a cross-border Hezbollah attack tunnel from Lebanon, which the army said was the largest and most technically advanced passage dug by the Iran-backed terror group, after it was located this past winter and studied over the past few months.

The tunnel, which began in the Lebanese border town of Ramyeh, was closed off with concrete and other sealants, “after an intelligence-operations investigation throughout the tunnel was performed in recent months,” the army said in a statement.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, this was Hezbollah’s “flagship” tunnel —  longer, dug deeper, and with more advanced components than the other five cross-border attack tunnels that the military said it found in Operation Northern Shield, an effort to find and destroy these passages in December and January.

“This tunnel was the Hezbollah terror group’s flagship tunnel, in which Hezbollah invested a lot of resources and efforts, in which infrastructure was installed to allow terrorists to remain inside it for an extended period and an efficient excavation capability, as well as mobility for the terrorist operatives,” the army said.

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 IDF believes that this tunnel, along with the five others found this winter, was 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.

“With [Operation Northern Shield], the IDF took away the central aspect of this attack plan, which [Hezbollah] built over the course of several years and was in the stages of its excavation being completed,” the military said.

On Wednesday, the IDF revealed additional details about the attack tunnel ahead of its planned destruction.

The army said the tunnel was dug to a depth of 80 meters (260 feet), was a kilometer (3,280 feet) long and penetrated 77 meters (250 feet) into Israeli territory. It began close to the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, the IDF said, with an exit close to the Israeli villages of Shtula and Zar’it.

That was a slight adjustment from the military’s initial assessments of the tunnel. When it was discovered in January, the IDF said it was dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet) and was 800 meters (2,600 feet) long.

The IDF said the tunnel was equipped with advanced infrastructure for electricity, ventilation and communications systems, and would have taken years to complete.

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 passage has been under constant surveillance and was boobytrapped following its discovery on January 13. A small portion of the tunnel inside Israeli territory will remain open to allow people to visit the site and look inside, an army official said.

“We are neutralizing the flagship tunnel of the Hezbollah terrorist group. This is an attack tunnel,” Col. Roi Levi, commander of the Baram Regional Brigade, said Wednesday.

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.

Levi said the army is aware of these efforts and is working to thwart them.

“The IDF has unconcealed and covert [monitoring] equipment. We know the enemy, we are tracking it and we are studying it,” he said.

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)

Israel launched Operation Northern Shield on December 4 to find and destroy Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels, and on January 13, the military announced it had found all of the passages and was working to demolish them.

“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 at the time.

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.

IDF reveals what it says is the longest cross-border attack tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel, May 29, 2019 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

On Monday, Lebanese media reported Israeli aircraft had struck and destroyed a spying device in Lebanese territory. Earlier in the day the Israeli military clashed with some 15 Lebanese nationals along the northern border, firing tear gas and stun grenades at them, after two men scaled the border fence and attempted to damage it, the army said.

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.

In this April 1996 file photo, two Hezbollah fighters stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, file)

Last month, the commander of the IDF’s Ground Forces, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick,  said Hezbollah was still planning to carry out a surprise invasion of northern Israel despite the recent anti-tunnel operation.

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