Within the next two years, Israel’s border with Lebanon will be near unrecognizable from how it appears today, with reinforced security measures around the country’s northern-most communities including changes to the topography itself, a senior military official said.
“What we’ve had until today has been a barrier that is insufficient,” the officer told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “We need a serious barrier that will prevent someone from infiltrating and breaking into our communities and our territory.”
The project to bolster the existing border fence will continue for several years to come in order to secure the area effectively, though most of the work will be completed within the next two years, according to the officer from the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command.
The new border protection is designed to prevent Hezbollah or another terror group from infiltrating Israel to carry out attacks on civilians and soldiers.
“We are taking the statements being made by our enemies seriously. Hezbollah’s [leader Hassan] Nasrallah regularly tells the press, ‘We’ll conquer the Galilee,’ and things like that. We take that seriously,” he said in the Northern Command’s Safed headquarters.
Due to the sensitivity of his position, the officer asked not to be named.
“In the past, we looked at the Golan Heights and saw the Syrian army and the Assad regime so we built a ‘glorious’ barrier, with trenches and minefields. But on the Lebanese front, we didn’t,” he said.
The decision to change that situation was made after the 2006 Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah. It was not the result of any particular incident during the conflict, the officer stressed, but of a general change in mindset that brought the threats from Lebanon into greater focus within the IDF.
This effort to shore up the border, which came into full swing approximately two years ago, is part of a larger Combat Engineering Corps program with the straightforward name, “Organization of the Region for War,” which is comprised of both the construction of these physical obstacles and training for any future conflict in Lebanon, the official said.
The border has been relatively quiet over the past year. In January, after Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar was allegedly killed by Israel, the group detonated an IED near an Israeli army vehicle, which caused some damage, but did not injure any soldiers.
“We don’t have any other plans other than maintaining quiet, and I hope that everyone understands that well, including our neighbors,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said about the northern border on Tuesday.
“In any case, I don’t recommend that anyone test us,” he added.
So far, the combat engineering team has completed “dozens of kilometers of fences, kilometers of walls that were built, kilometers of cliffs that were hewn [from mountains],” he said, but there is still “a long way to go.”
‘There are some locations where they are working 24/7 — days, nights and weekends’
“Today, there are about 100 engineering vehicles on the border that are working at any given time. That’s an insane amount, something we haven’t seen in years,” he said.
“We have a saying: No bulldozer stands idle,” the official said. “There are some locations where they are working 24/7 — days, nights and weekends.”
As the construction is taking place close to the Blue Line, the still contentious but mostly agreed upon border between Israel and Lebanon, the IDF coordinates its efforts with the United Nation’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is supposed to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts between the two militaries.
That does not always work. In 2010, Lt. Col. Dov Harari was killed by a Lebanese army sniper as he led a team of soldiers to do some maintenance work on the Israeli side of the border.
“On the one hand, everything is coordinated. But we don’t see UNIFIL as something that’s designed to protect us. We know how to protect ourselves quite well,” the officer said.
The goal of this long-term project is to eventually provide improved security all along the approximately 60 mile (100km) border, from “the sea to the mountain,” the officer said, from Rosh Hanikra on the coast to the Golan Heights.
This overhaul is expected to ultimately cost approximately one billion shekels and is being completed with both military and civilian engineering teams, the official said.
“If we could do it with all military [teams], we would,” he said. “But it’s an issue of availability. The IDF is dealing with a few other fronts, you know.”
The high cost, he explained, comes from the difficulty in operating on the rocky, mountainous terrain of the northern border.
“There’s a difference between putting up a fence somewhere flat and putting up a fence where there are mountains, boulders, forests. It’s a difficult piece of engineering. It takes a long time. And it takes money,” he said.
“A fence in a flat area costs X; a fence in a mountainous area costs X multiplied by four. Those are more or less the real numbers,” he said.
The project is not being conducted from east to west, but rather in order of vulnerability.
“We looked at the area and asked, ‘Where are the weak spots?'” he said. “First and foremost, it’s the communities next to the border, next to Lebanon. So we take care of them and then the rest of the area.”
The Northern Command’s combat engineers assessed each spot along the border and devised a security blueprint designed for its specific landscape features, the officer said.
For instance, Metulla, which is located directly adjacent the border fence and sits in a fairly open plain, is already protected by a more than 20-foot tall concrete wall, which will be further reinforced.
“But there are communities that are in mountainous areas, where the solution is [man-made] cliffs and clearing fields,” he said.
The IDF is literally changing the landscape — lobbing off sections of mountains to create steep, unpassable cliffs so terrorists cannot enter Israel or clearing forests so that infiltrators have no place to hide.
“I was saying the other day, from space you can see the Great Wall of China, well you can already see what we’re doing in Google Earth,” the officer said.