IDF starts sealing Hezbollah attack tunnels, says process will ‘take time’
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IDF starts sealing Hezbollah attack tunnels, says process will ‘take time’

Netanyahu says military using ‘special means’ to neutralize passages entering Israel from southern Lebanon; army mum on details

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

Israeli troops operate next to the entrance point to a tunnel dug into an apple field south of the Israeli town of Metulla from Lebanon on December 19, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Israeli troops operate next to the entrance point to a tunnel dug into an apple field south of the Israeli town of Metulla from Lebanon on December 19, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The Israeli military said Thursday that it had begun to seal off some of the Hezbollah attack tunnels dug into northern Israel from southern Lebanon.

In some cases, the tunnels will be plugged shut, while in others they will be destroyed with explosives.

“This stage will be carried out with a number of techniques and measures, which will render the tunnels entirely unusable and will prevent Hezbollah from utilizing them and carrying out its plans,” the army said in a statement.

The Israeli military launched Operation Northern Shield — an effort to find and destroy attack tunnels that the military says Hezbollah dug into Israeli territory from villages in southern Lebanon — on December 4.

Israeli troops prepare to destroy attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon by the Hezbollah terror group on December 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the army was using different methods for each tunnel as each one was unique.

“Some of them have concrete components, some of them were dug into the living rock,” he said. “Each tunnel has a tailored [destruction] technique.”

The process of destroying the tunnels, which began on Thursday after days of preparations, would “take time” and was likely to last well into the night, Conricus said.

The spokesperson said only some of the tunnels were being destroyed on Thursday, while others would be “neutralized” in the future.

The military warned the Lebanese population against “approaching the openings of the tunnels or standing near them” in order to avoid collateral damage, Conricus said.

Local governments and residents of the areas around the tunnels found inside Israeli territory were also informed of the IDF’s activities in order to avoid potential injuries.

The military deployed additional troops to the Lebanese border at the start of Operation Northern Shield as a precautionary measure against possible retaliatory attacks by Hezbollah. They remained in place with the start of the new stage of the operation, the IDF said.

“The Northern Command is prepared with reinforcements and a variety of other capabilities on high alert for any developments, should they occur,” the army said.

 

Israel has 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 its fighters into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above-ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army was using “special means” to seal off the tunnels. “We are continuing in our efforts to thwart those terror tunnels,” he added.

So far, the army has said it has discovered four such tunnels inside Israeli territory, one of them south of the town of Metulla and one near the community of Zarit, along the Lebanese border. The IDF has refused to disclose the locations of the other two tunnels.

Israeli soldiers stand around the opening of a hole that leads to a tunnel that the army says was dug by the Hezbollah terror group across the Israel-Lebanon border, near Metulla, on December 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL confirmed on Monday that at least two of the tunnels crossed into Israel and were therefore a violation of the UN resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but did not confirm Israel’s allegations they were dug by Hezbollah. United Nation peacekeepers have stepped up patrols to ensure the frontier remains calm.

UN Resolution 1701 required all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River.

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 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 UN Security Council discussed the Hezbollah tunnels and the IDF’s operation to find and destroy them on Wednesday night, but decided not to take action against the Iran-backed group.

Ahead of the meeting, Israel had urged the council to condemn the Iran-backed Hezbollah and designate it a terrorist organization.

Though the council took no action on the Israeli request, several members sided with Israel and expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Operation Northern Shield confirmed long-held suspicions that Hezbollah had indeed dug tunnels into northern Israel, as residents of the area had been claiming for years.

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 operation is taking place close to Lebanese territory, sometimes on the north side of the border wall, albeit still inside Israeli territory.

An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Lebanon has downplayed chances of war so long as Israeli troops do not cross the border. 

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.

Israel maintains that the tunnels represent a “serious violation of Resolution 1701 and the State of Israel’s sovereignty.”

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