A man seen in footage released by the Israel Defense Forces from inside a tunnel penetrating from Lebanon into Israeli territory has been identified by reports as a senior member of terror group Hezbollah with Iranian links.
Israel announced on Tuesday that it had launched an operation dubbed Northern Shield to uncover and destroy subterranean passages dug by Hezbollah into Israel with the goal of attacking the Jewish state in a future war.
The IDF spokesperson said at a press conference the same day that Hezbollah operatives had been working inside the cross-border tunnel when it was exposed, publishing footage he said was filmed mere hours earlier inside the underground passage.
In the video, which was filmed by a small Israeli military robot, two men could be seen walking into the tunnel from the entrance inside Lebanon on Tuesday morning, hours before the army announced that the tunnel had been located and would soon be destroyed.
One of the men can be seen approaching the robot, which sets off a small explosive device, scaring them away.
On Thursday, several reports identified the man seen in the video as Imad Fahs, a mechanical engineer who commands both a Hezbollah observation unit and a tunnel unit.
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Fahs, who is in his 30s and is married with two children, has a PhD in mechanical engineering from K. N. Toosi University of Technology in Tehran.
The i24NEWS TV channel first reported the story, citing an unnamed security official. Later, Hadashot TV said it had contacted a friend of Fahs who confirmed he had recognized him in the published footage.
Hadashot said its efforts to contact Fahs himself had been fruitless, adding that he appears to have gone underground, literally and figuratively, over the past two years. He has dramatically reduced his online presence and has stopped posting to his Facebook account.
Earlier posts by Fahs on social media feature many photos of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as photos of himself in southern Lebanon.
Fahs reportedly trained in the past with Mexican drug cartels near the border with the United States.
The IDF said the tunnel, which extended some 40 meters into Israel, was the “first of what are sure to be many” attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah across the border from southern Lebanon discovered as part of the newly launched operation. It has since located a second tunnel.
According to the IDF spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the tunnel that was uncovered on Tuesday originated under an ostensibly civilian building, meters away from a position controlled by the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, which is meant to ensure that armed groups other than the Lebanese military stay away from the border zone under UN Resolution 1701.
On Thursday, UNIFIL confirmed the existence of the tunnel after touring the site with Israeli officials, calling the tunnel a “serious concern” and adding it would investigate the matter with Lebanese authorities.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.