PM: We are methodically destroying Hezbollah's tunnel weapon

In rain and mud, IDF exposes another tunnel from Lebanon into Israel

Passage is the second one to be fully exposed by military in its tunnel-busting operation thus far; army refuses to disclose its location, says it wasn’t yet operational

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The Israeli military on Saturday located a cross-border attack tunnel from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory that it says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group.

It was the second tunnel that the Israel Defense Forces has fully exposed — precisely located, drilled into, and began preparing for destruction — since the start of its operation to find and destroy such underground passages. The army has also identified a third tunnel, which it says extends from the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, but has yet to take the aforementioned steps.

The fresh tunnel discovered Saturday, whose location has been kept secret for security reasons, has been fitted with explosives in order to ensure that it cannot be used by the Iran-backed Hezbollah, army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

According to the spokesman, excavation of the tunnel was being conducted until recently.

“It’s a fresh tunnel,” he said.

The military did not offer additional details regarding the size of the tunnel.

Israeli troops search for a Hezbollah border-crossing attack tunnel from southern Lebanon, along the northern border, on December 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Conricus said the tunnel discovered Saturday, like the others identified by Israel thus far, was “not yet operational and does not yet pose an imminent threat to the surrounding Israeli communities.”

Saturday saw heavy rain and dense fog throughout Israel, turning the ground along the border where soldiers are operating to a thick mud. According to IDF officials, the inclement weather is making the army’s search efforts more difficult, but they are nevertheless continuing.

Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

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.

Israeli troops search for a Hezbollah border-crossing attack tunnel from southern Lebanon, along the northern border, on December 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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 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 in the tunnel near Metulla, on Saturday the military said it had fully exposed the third tunnel at its undisclosed location.

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 — it was “where we expected to find it.”

The spokesperson 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.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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.

A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the tunnels discovered inside Israel were large enough to be used by “entire battalions” to enter Israeli territory in order to “carry out killing sprees and kidnappings and to capture Israeli towns and villages.”

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.

Israeli officials have indicated that the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory if necessary to destroy the tunnels.

An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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