Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday vowed to take additional steps, including clandestine operations, to protect Israel against Hezbollah’s efforts to attack the Jewish state, hours after IDF started a large-scale operation to destroy cross-border attack tunnels constructed by the Shiite terrorist organization.
“Anyone who tries to harm the State of Israel will pay a heavy price,” he said in a statement, his first public comment on Operation Northern Shield.
“We act with determination and responsibility in all areas simultaneously. We will continue with other actions, overt and covert, in order to ensure Israel’s security,” he said, adding that there had been early “successes” in the operation.
Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister and foreign minister, returned to Israel from Brussels early on Tuesday, after a snap meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during which the two discussed the operation.
The prime minister told the US diplomat Monday said that the tunnels were “a flagrant violation of Israeli sovereignty and UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” according to a readout provided by Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu further told Pompeo that Tehran’s aggression also needed to be confronted in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Tuesday that Israel was not seeking war, and blamed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal for providing the Islamic Republic with cash that was used to help Hezbollah built its terror tunnels.
“Hezbollah is digging tunnels for terror purposes from Lebanon into Israel,” the ministry said in a statement, saying these acts constitute “a severe attack on Israel’s sovereignty” and violate UN Resolutions 1701, which ended the 2006 war with Hezbollah, and 1559, which called on Hezbollah to cease militant activity in 2004.
“Israel is conducting defensive actions within its sovereign territory. Israel has the right to defend itself and is not interested in escalation,” the ministry’s statement read.
Hezbollah has worked on “a broad expansion of its subterranean terror infrastructure” since the 2006 Lebanon War, the statement read, accusing the group of acting as Iran’s proxy.
“Hezbollah is building these terror tunnels in order to attack Israel, take Israeli citizens hostage and spread terror. Hezbollah’s tunnel project is another example of the dangerous strengthening of Hezbollah that is funded, supported and directed by Iran,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“Hezbollah has taken control of Lebanon and is pushing an Iranian agenda to turn that country into a base for attacks against Israel. Its actions harm Lebanon and threaten to make the tremendous investments of the international community worthless,” the statement went on.
The ministry said Iran was funding Hezbollah using money “billions of dollars it received as part of the nuclear deal,” referring to the 2015 accord that lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on nuclear activity.
The statement accused Hezbollah of committing “a double war crime” as it operates from “within Lebanon’s civilian population, in order to harm Israel’s civilian population.”
Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for all activities conducted inside the country, the ministry said, but the tunnels’ existence proved that its army was not up to the task of making sure the terror group does not operate in southern Lebanon.
“Israel has been monitoring Hezbollah’s intentions and attack tunnel activities for years. The current operation will continue as necessary, along with construction of a northern border obstacle.”
The statement did not mention UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force also charged with keeping Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.
However, the ministry instructed the Israeli mission to the United Nations to write to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in order to protest the “aggression from Lebanese territory,” ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.