Northern exposure: 9 things to know for December 6
Israel media review

Northern exposure: 9 things to know for December 6

Israel reveals some details about what it thinks Hezbollah was planning, the terror group stays mum, and some see a battle of the minds on the not-yet-so-tense border

A picture taken on December 5, 2018, from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows members of the Israeli military, excavators, trailers, and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border. (Ali Dia/AFP)
A picture taken on December 5, 2018, from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows members of the Israeli military, excavators, trailers, and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border. (Ali Dia/AFP)

1. Plan of attack: Details are emerging about what the Hezbollah terror group planned to use a series of tunnels dug under the Israel-Lebanon border for, at least according to the Israel Defense Forces.

  • A senior officer — unnamed, natch — told a gaggle of journalists Wednesday on a closely watched tour of the only tunnel uncovered so far that Hezbollah’s plan was to use the tunnels for a surprise infiltration to blitz the northern town of Metulla and part of the Galilee panhandle.
  • While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Hezbollah had planned to “conquer the Galilee,” as it’s threatened in the past, the IDF has usually scoffed at the notion, and that was not quite the plan in any case.
  • According to Haaretz’s Amos Harel, the IDF thinks Hezbollah planned to quickly take control of communities or military positions while targeting whatever reinforcements were dispatched to respond.
  • “The tunnels were supposed to allow companies from Hezbollah’s Radwan special forces unit to enter Israel undetected,” he writes. “From there, they were to spread out, take key positions and begin employing snipers and anti-tank missiles against the IDF. Immediately after the shock troops invaded Israeli territory using the tunnels, as their assault was detected, more forces would breach the border fence. Metulla is a desirable target to Hezbollah, accessible only by a single, relatively steep road. At the same time, according to assessments, additional companies of militants were to use other tunnels to enter Israel before spreading out and occupying strategic points along the ridges south of the border, in an effort to stop Israeli troops from advancing northward.”
  • As for when this attack would take place, the officer said there was no date set, and it was at least a few months off: “None of the tunnels was ready for war tomorrow. In some cases, it was a matter of months and in others it was a matter of years before they’d be operationally ready.”

2. Battle of wits: While the IDF is releasing much information, it’s also being particularly cagey about how much it knows, and Hezbollah is remaining silent as well.

  • On Wednesday night, one Israeli TV outlet briefly mentioned what the IDF thinks the extent of the tunnel infrastructure was, but the information was quickly pulled down by the military censor.
  • Hezbollah has yet to respond with an official statement or anything of the like yet. According to Hadashot news, this is because it wants to try and figure out what exactly Israel knows first.
  • According to Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor, Israel thinks the tunnels may have extended all the way west to the sea “where the tunnels would also be used for kidnapping soldiers and escaping back into Lebanon,” and indeed, Hezbollah published information Wednesday claiming that the IDF is now operating in areas to the west of Metulla.
  • Unlike in Gaza, where Israel can maintain a buffer zone and keep people away from its tunnel-busting works, in Lebanon, it has no such power (without launching a war) and so there is a fair amount of coverage of Israeli diggers and other operations taken from across the border, either by Hezbollah or Lebanese media.
  • But as ToI’s Judah Ari Gross notes, the IDF surely knows it’s being watched closely by Hezbollah, meaning there are likely some mind games at work.
  • “That the terror group is looking closely should come as no surprise to the IDF, which has for years watched Hezbollah operatives watching its soldiers from across the border and, indeed, has been known to supply Hezbollah with disinformation in order to confuse and mislead, making reports from Lebanon and from Israel based solely on the naked eye potentially unreliable,” he writes. “Israel would like to keep its observers surprised. With its work so close to a border that is heavily monitored — not just by Hezbollah, but also by the Lebanese Armed Forces, and UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL — the IDF will likely be forced, in addition to the tunnel-busting operation, to put on other such shows to keep Hezbollah guessing.”
  • Confused? Perhaps Vizzini can clear up the Israel-Hezbollah battle of the wits.

3. Hezbollah’s bad, you dig? Israel in the meantime has launched its own PR and diplomatic blitz to get the world behind it and against Hezbollah.

  • As of Wednesday evening Israel time, only Russia and the US had weighed in to offer support for Israel respectively. Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a chat with UN chief Antonio Guterres and since then some European states have weighed in to back Israel.
  • Nobody says as much, but the timing of the statements point to either the countries huddling to present a unified stance, or the launch of a concerted lobbying effort by Israeli diplomats.

4. Playing Beirut: There also appears to be an Israeli effort underway to convince the Lebanese to push out Hezbollah.

  • “The uncovering of the attack tunnel exposes [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah as someone unconcerned about sacrificing Lebanon on the altar of Iranian interests,” Israel Hayom’s Oded Granot writes, citing a Lebanese journalist who warned Wednesday that Hezbollah was “dragging all of Lebanon into its tunnels.”
  • In Yedioth, former national security adviser Giora Eiland gives five reasons why Lebanon may force Hezbollah to actually disarm or get out: a. Shiites are not the majority b. Most Lebanese are worried the group will drag Lebanon into war with Israel c. The 30-year-old group is in financial straits because of its time fighting in Syria, and its own pension crisis d. The group now has a stake in Lebanese politics that it may not want to risk by fighting a war and lastly Russia doesn’t care enough about Lebanon to back Iran’s proxy there.

5. ‘Israeli sham’: For now, though, Lebanon seems mostly nonplussed or dismissive about the Israeli operation.

  • On Wednesday, Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah, said Israel had offered no proof of the tunnels.
  • An editorial in Lebanon’s English-language Daily Star calls the operation “another Israeli sham.”
  • But Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, no fan of Hezbollah, says simply that there’s no reason for tensions to escalate so long as Israel stays on its side of the border.
  • “The developments on the southern border must not represent a reason for any escalation, and this is what Lebanon wants and is seeking with all the international and friendly sides concerned with this,” he’s quoted saying by Naharnet.
  • Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua writes that Israeli officials believe the chances of a confrontation breaking out have actually lowered since the operation began. “The IDF believes Nasrallah will not respond,” he writes.

6. Hungary and the Holocaust: Israel’s Channel 10 news reports that Israeli diplomacy may also be directed at fighting a Hungarian initiative to open a new Holocaust museum that critics say diminishes the Hungarians’ role in persecution of the Jews.

  • The channel reports that the person appointed by nationalist leader Viktor Orban to run the museum is Maria Schmidt, who is known for downplaying Hungary’s role in the Holocaust.
  • Orban himself has been accused of insensitivity toward Jews, joining in efforts to rehab the image of wartime leader Miklos Horthy, who voluntarily collaborated with Hitler, and in his campaign against George Soros.
  • The channel quotes a diplomat saying the Foreign Ministry is stridently opposed to the initiative, but the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, does not necessarily agree and will be the one leading negotiations, leading to fears that Israel will cave as it did with Poland’s Holocaust law.
  • Netanyahu has in the past been accused of selling out to European nationalists on Holocaust narrative issues in exchange for friendly ties within the EU.
  • Responding to the report, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, whose father Tommy was rescued by Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, tweets that the report is disturbing: “The Hungarians were deeply involved in the destruction of the Jewish people, and were part of the murderous machine. The only answer to Orban is that the Museum needs to expose the truth and nothing else. No negotiations, no consensus. Just the truth.”

7. Cop out: Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is under fire after Moshe Edri dropped out of the race for police chief, following yet another controversy.

  • In Yedioth, columnist Sima Kadmon writes that the whole affair reflects especially poorly on Erdan: “He chose to nominate someone close to him and turned the candidacy into a test of his leadership, even when all the red lights were blinking.”
  • The news means Israel will need to go back to the drawing board for a new police chief.
  • Sources close to Erdan, clearly bitter, tell Yedioth that the next choice will be someone who can pass the vetting committee, rather than the best person for the job.
  • Israel Hayom reports that the government may again look outside the ranks of the police for the new chief, which is how they found outgoing commissioner Roni Alsheich, who came from the Shin Bet.

8. Non-kosher bagel with smear: An even bigger political scandal (not really) was sparked by a gossipy report in Hadashot news that aired reported quotes from Walla News owner Shaul Elovitch to associates, in which he complained about Netanyahu trying to wield control over the site.

  • Among the stories Elovitch cited that Netanyahu requested (but he rejected) be published was one about the wife of Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett working at nonkosher restaurants.
  • As ToI’s Jacob Magid points out, that kind of thing is rich coming from Netanyahu, whose second wife was not Jewish and who does not keep kosher.

9. Tuna prices smell fishy: In a bit of news you can use, Haaretz’s Sami Peretz tried to pop the top off the mystery of why canned tuna has gotten so much more expensive in recent years, despite the removal of a tariff that had dded several shekels onto each container.

  • According to the paper, raw tuna prices are today as low as they were in 2016, the year the tariffs were removed. Yet a can today costs NIS 7.80 ($2.09), above the NIS 7.50 in 2013 when the tariff was in place and raw prices were higher.
  • Industry representatives’ canned response is that lower prices may eventually filter to Israel, but in the meantime, it seems workers at three local canneries that were forced to shut after the tariff was removed lost their jobs for nothing.
  • “Today we can declare the experiment a complete failure, as we had warned the government. The price of tuna didn’t fall, but canners were forced to close their factories in Israel and moved to import tuna and can it overseas,” Manufacturer’s Associated head Shraga Brosh says.
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