PM: Nasrallah ’embarrassed’ by Israel’s success in destroying Hezbollah tunnels

Netanyahu says terror group in financial difficulties after sanctions reimposed on Iran; dismisses its leader’s claim subterranean passages predate 2006 war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 16, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 16, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was “embarrassed” in the wake of Israel’s success in identifying and destroying a series of cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon, and said the Lebanon-based terror group is struggling financially in the wake of sanctions imposed on its sponsor Iran.

“Yesterday Nasrallah broke his silence. He is embarrassed for three reasons: Firstly, due to our tremendous success in Operation Northern Shield,” the prime minister said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the Israeli military’s campaign to dismantle the underground infrastructure.

“He and his men invested tremendous effort in the surprise weapon of the tunnels, including digging them — contrary to what he said — in recent years and in recent months. Within six weeks we completely deprived him of that weapon,” Netanyahu said.

“Second, Nasrallah is embarrassed by financial distress. The policy we have advocated to renew the sanctions against Iran is a policy adopted by President Trump in a clear and sharp manner, severely harming the sources of funding for Iran and its proxies, first and foremost Hezbollah.

“And thirdly Nasrallah is embarrassed by our determination. Hezbollah is faced with the lethal force of the IDF, and believe me, Nasrallah has good reasons not to want to feel our blows land,” added Netanyahu.

Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah terror group, on Saturday said Israel’s operation to uncover and destroy cross-border attack tunnels was indicative of an intelligence failure, and said the group’s plans for an invasion of the Galilee remained intact.

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

Breaking months of silence, and speaking for the first time since Israel launched Operation Northern Shield in early December to uncover and destroy the tunnels dug under its border, Nasrallah claimed during an interview with the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen TV that “some of the tunnels are from before Resolution 1701 and the Second Lebanon War.”

UN Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 conflict and called for all armed groups in Lebanon besides the country’s military to remain north of the Litani River. Israel has for years claimed that Hezbollah has been violating the resolution by conducting military activities along the border.

“The Israelis discovered a number of tunnels after many years, and it’s not a surprise. The surprise is that these tunnels, they took some time to find,” Nasrallah said on the al-Mayadeen channel.

“One of the tunnels discovered in recent weeks is 13 or 14 years old,” said a smiling Nasrallah. The Israeli operation brought to light the “failure” of the country’s intelligence services, he added.

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)

Nasrallah’s claim regarding when work began on some of the tunnels appeared to line up with a Channel 13 report earlier this month. Israel has said it was aware of Hezbollah’s tunnel operations for several years.

Nasrallah also suggested that Israeli citizens should question the information they were being given on the tunnels, on the basis that northern residents’ concerns about the presence of attack tunnels had been dismissed for years.

“Moshe Ya’alon confirmed during Operation Northern Shield that there were tunnels,” he said, presumably referring to the former defense minister’s admission that officials had lied about the existence of the tunnels. “My question to the settlers in the north: Do you think Netanyahu, Eisenkot, and the new chief of staff are lying to you now or telling the truth?”

Nasrallah went on to claim that the tunnels were hardly central to Hezbollah’s attack plan in a future war, and that Israeli leaders had inflated their importance “to leave the [army] with a significant achievement” to boast of.

He confirmed Israeli leaders’ accusations that “part of our plan for the next war is to enter the Galilee, a part of our plan we are capable of, God willing. The important thing is that we have this capability and we have had it for years.”

But, he 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 that Israel has not yet discovered.

Attack tunnel dug into Israel from southern Lebanon that the Israeli military believes Hezbollah planned to use in future wars, which was discovered in January 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Saturday’s interview with Nasrallah was an extraordinarily long one, lasting over three hours.

Despite his bluster, the terror leader would not officially confirm that the cross-border tunnels had actually been dug by Hezbollah.

“Israel is claiming that Hezbollah dug them. I don’t have to say that I or Hezbollah dug the tunnels, because we always prefer to keep ambiguity on defense. We have no reason to work for free for Israel,” he said. He added: “I won’t confirm or deny if all of the tunnels have been uncovered.”

He also insisted that Operation Northern Shield “has not ended, despite the Israelis having announced its completion. Digging is still going on.”

The IDF announced the end of Operation Northern Shield two weeks ago.

Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a handover ceremony at the Defense Ministry for new Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on January 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Nasrallah, 58, took over the Iran-backed Hezbollah group after its previous leader was killed in a 1992 targeted assassination by Israeli helicopters on his convoy.

As a precaution against a repeat of the incident, Nasrallah’s movements are shrouded in mystery with few public appearances. He instead prefers videos or live television broadcasts.

Hezbollah is designated a terror organization, either entirely or partly, by Israel, the United States, the European Union and other countries.

Nasrallah also warned Hezbollah could respond to Israeli airstrikes in Syria targeting mainly Iranian positions and what Israel says are weapons shipments.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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