Number of Iranians on Syrian soil has fallen by two-thirds

Israel alerts UN to more Hezbollah tunnels in Lebanon, heading toward Israel

None of these tunnels has reached the Israeli border, unlike the six tunnels destroyed by the IDF in recent weeks

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Israeli troops search for attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops search for attack tunnels dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli government has passed information to the United Nations detailing the existence of additional “underground infrastructure” belonging to Hezbollah along the Israeli-Lebanese border, The Times of Israel has learned, including tunnels headed toward Israeli territory that were not destroyed in the IDF’s recent Operation Northern Shield.

Hezbollah’s construction work on these additional tunnels ceased last month when the terror organization realized its plans were known by the Israeli side. None of the new tunnels had reached the Israeli border, unlike the six tunnels that have been destroyed by Israel.

The additional tunnels, all of which are in Lebanese territory, are known to Israeli intelligence and are within Israel’s operational reach, an Israeli official said.

The official confirmed a similar claim to this effect made by the Israeli military earlier this month.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (INSS)

“The IDF is monitoring and is in possession of a number of sites where Hezbollah is digging underground infrastructure that has yet to cross into Israeli territory,” the army said on January 13.

On Sunday, former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s assertion in a Saturday night interview that there are things Israel doesn’t know regarding Hezbollah’s tunnel program “is flat wrong.”

A photo released by the IDF on December 27, 2018, shows fluids the army says it used to seal cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah coming out of a civilian building in the southern Lebanese village of Kafr Kila. (IDF Spokesperson)

On December 4, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnels, and on January 13, the military announced it had found all such passages and was working to demolish them.

In a three-hour-long interview with the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen TV on Saturday, Nasrallah said that the tunnels project began before the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and, indeed, one tunnel destroyed by the IDF in its recent operation was started before 2006. The Shiite organization’s tunnels project was only exposed in 2014.

Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah is interviewed on the al-Mayadeen Lebanese television channel, January 26, 2019 (Screen capture)

Nasrallah, in his interview, had claimed: “The uncovering of the tunnels does not affect by 10 percent our plans to take over the Galilee. If we decide to do it — even if they’ve destroyed the tunnels — can’t we rebuild them?” He also suggested there may be attack tunnels on the Israeli-Lebanese border which Israel has not yet discovered.

The Times of Israel has also confirmed that the rocket launched at Israel last week from Syria that was destroyed by the Iron Dome system over Mount Hermon was likely fired by troops belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and not by a Shiite militia, and had been shipped to Syria from Iran. The missile was fired from one of the southern neighborhoods of Damascus, near Sayeda Zeinab, a Shiite holy site.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows missiles flying into the sky near international airport, in Damascus, Syria, January 21, 2019. (SANA via AP)

Israel believes Iran currently has some 2,000 IRGC personnel in Syria, and thousands more members of Shiite militias under their command. The government believes that the number of Iranians on Syrian soil has fallen to one-third of what it was a few years ago; Iran has reduced its presence in Syria, but not removed it. Hezbollah, too, has significantly reduced its forces in Syria.

Iran officially denies having a military presence in Syria; it says it has advisers there.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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