The Israeli military uncovered over the weekend a fourth cross-border attack tunnel that it says the Hezbollah terror group dug into Israel from southern Lebanon.
The Israel Defense Forces refused to specify where the tunnel was found, but said the “relevant local governments” were notified of its location. “The tunnel is under IDF control and does not present a threat,” the army said in a statement.
The IDF filled the tunnel with explosives — as it did with the three other tunnels it exposed in recent weeks — in order to ensure that it could not be used to carry out an attack.
“Whoever enters it from the Lebanese side forfeits his life,” the army said in a statement.
The attack tunnels were found as part of the army’s ongoing Operation Northern Shield, an effort to find and destroy passages dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon.
The military said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by the Iran-backed terror group as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow dozens or hundreds of terrorists into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above-ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.
Operation Northern Shield has raised tensions of a possible fresh conflict on the volatile border, which has seen two wars in recent decades, though Lebanon has downplayed chances of war so long as Israeli troops do not cross the border. United Nation peacekeepers have also stepped up patrols to ensure the frontier remains calm.
The IDF said soldiers were working to study and map out the tunnel found over the weekend before its eventual destruction.
“At the same time, the IDF is continuing to complete its activities at other locations, according to plan,” the army said.
The army has also said it is aware of the existence of other tunnels, but has yet to fully expose them.
The specific number of tunnels that Israel believes were dug from Lebanon, as well as other information about the operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.
The IDF launched its tunnel-busting operation on December 4, confirming long-held suspicions that the Lebanese-based Hezbollah had indeed dug tunnels into northern Israel, as residents of the area had been claiming for years.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that it would face an “unimaginable” response if it tried to interfere with the military’s efforts to uncover and destroy what it says is a network of tunnels snaking into the country from Lebanon.
“If Hezbollah makes the mistake, and decides, in any way, to attack us or to oppose our operation, they will be hit with unimaginable blows,” Netanyahu vowed during a tour of the northern border.
He said Israel was “completely prepared” for any challenge.
The prime minister added that the operation was ahead of schedule and would continue until “we totally nullify the Hezbollah tunnel threat.”
“Imagine what would happen if we did not do this, imagine that on one gray foggy day Hezbollah would spring out of these tunnels and kidnap our people,” said Netanyahu, who recently appointed himself defense minister, and is also the foreign minister, health minister and immigrant absorption minister.
Operation Northern Shield is taking place close to Lebanese territory, sometimes on the north side of the border wall, albeit still inside Israeli territory.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that the operation would continue “until it achieves all its objectives.”
An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression.
Israeli officials have indicated that the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory, if necessary, to destroy the tunnels. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said Tuesday that the United States assured him that Israel has “no aggressive intentions” with its Operation Northern Shield.
The first and second tunnels were found outside the town of Metulla, near the Lebanese border. The military has refused to reveal the locations of the subsequent tunnels it found, and the military has censored much of the information surrounding the operation, citing national security.
Israel maintains that the tunnels represent a “serious violation of Resolution 1701 and the State of Israel’s sovereignty.”
UN Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and required all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River.
The army said the Lebanese government was responsible for the tunnels being dug inside its territory and said it was “continuing with its approved plans to continue finding and exposing terror tunnels.”
So far, the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of the first and second tunnels, but has yet to comment on the other two.
“UNIFIL is continuing to follow up on this issue in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces,” the commander of the peacekeeping force, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, said in a statement last week.
The military has been closely coordinating its efforts with UNIFIL and, through the peacekeeping force, the Lebanese Armed Forces in order to prevent misunderstandings and potential clashes.
On Tuesday, a delegation of senior Israeli military officers flew to Moscow in order to discuss the operation and other matters with their Russian counterparts.
Netanyahu also said he will demand that the UN Security Council discuss the matter.