IDF releases seismic audio of Hezbollah digging into Israel
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IDF releases seismic audio of Hezbollah digging into Israel

Army offers glimpse into its ‘laboratory’ of engineers and intel soldiers searching for attack tunnels from southern Lebanon

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

The Israeli military on Monday evening released audio recordings of what it says are the sounds of the Hezbollah terrorist group tunneling into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon.

The recordings of seismic activity were part of what allowed a multidisciplinary military task force, which Israel calls “The Laboratory,” to locate a number of attack tunnels dug by the Iran-backed terror group, the army said.

Last week, the military launched Operation Northern Shield, a concerted effort to locate and destroy these cross-border passages, which Israel says Hezbollah intended to use as part of its plans to conquer portions of the Galilee in a future war with Israel.

So far, the IDF has uncovered two tunnels that it says were dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory — one of them south of the Israeli town of Metulla and the other at an undisclosed location, which the military says it is keeping secret for national security reasons.

In addition, the army said it is aware of the existence of additional tunnels, including one from the Lebanese village of Ramyeh, that it is working now to expose.

The tunnels’ discovery, and the IDF operation to destroy them, has raised the specter of renewed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

The Israeli army first started searching for these tunnels in 2013, after residents of northern Israel reported hearing sounds of digging, but failed to find anything. Following the 2014 Gaza war, in which Hamas attack tunnels were a key threat, the military searched the north again for Hezbollah’s underground passages.

During that renewed effort, the Israel Defense Forces found indications that the tunnels indeed existed and formed The Laboratory to spearhead the search for them in the Northern Command. The Laboratory, made up of soldiers from technology and intelligence units, was based on a similar unit from the Southern Command that searches for tunnels dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Indeed, the current commander of the unit, who can only be identified by his rank and first letter of his Hebrew name, Cpt. “Gimel,” previously served as the deputy head of the Southern Command tunnel-finding Laboratory.

“We brought with us the knowledge that we accumulated there and brought it north,” Gimel said in a statement.

“We learned that when we bring together the field engineers, researchers, and technology people from a variety of disciplines, the results aren’t slow to come,” he added.

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

According to a military official, the Northern Command unit used a variety of seismic sensors and radar systems as part of its effort to locate the Hezbollah tunnels. IDF officials have said some of the techniques used were the same as those employed to locate Hamas tunnels in the sandy soil of the south, while others were specially designed for the rockier and tougher earth under the Lebanese border.

“The development of the capabilities and operating techniques of the Laboratory in the Northern Command were carried out in light of our attempts to use the Laboratory in the Gaza Division,” said Col. Yaniv Avitan, of the IDF’s Technology and Logistics Directorate.

“We have at our disposal in the technology department of the IDF Ground Forces the best technological minds and measures that are needed to fulfill this mission,” he added in a statement.

According to the military, the technology both relies on existing sensors and technologies and develops its own equipment for locating and mapping the tunnels, “which are specially designed for the specific challenge of terror tunnels in different terrains.”

Once The Laboratory identifies the location of a tunnel, it works with engineering units and, in some cases, civilian contractors to fully expose and eventually destroy it.

Israeli officials have indicated that the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory to destroy the tunnels. An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with the Iran-backed terrorist militia.

Ramping up tensions further, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem warned Israel over the weekend that all of its territory, “even Tel Aviv,” was vulnerable to the group’s immense arsenal of over 100,000 rockets.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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