President Reuven Rivlin told Air Force soldiers on Tuesday that the terror group Hezbollah will, in dragging Lebanon into permanent war with Israel, “bring about its eventual downfall.”
“We see the government of Lebanon as responsible for what happens in Lebanon,” Rivlin said, amid rising tensions along the northern border after the IDF announced earlier Tuesday the start of Operation Northern Shield to destroy multiple Hezbollah attack tunnels extending into Israeli territory.
“We warn Hezbollah not to subjugate Lebanon to an Iranian agenda, or to use Lebanon as a base for attacking Israel,” Rivlin said at a Hanukkah candlelighting ceremony with the Israel Air Force’s 25th Wing at the Ramon Air Force Base in the south of the country.
“Hezbollah, which portrays itself as the ‘shield of Lebanon,’ will bring its eventual downfall,” Rivlin warned. “The discovery of these tunnels only proves the depth of Iranian involvement in Lebanon, in terms of both funding and political direction.”
Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon urged the Security Council to meet on Hezbollah’s violations of the council’s Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
“Hezbollah continues to operate with Iranian funding, direction, and patronage. The Security Council behind me had said in a clear voice to Hezbollah that it must not arm itself and continue its terrorist activities against Israel. Yet, this did not prevent them from continuing their operations, and now they are also trying to infiltrate into Israel through tunnels,” Danon charged.
“It is clear that Hezbollah shows willful disregard towards the Security Council and aggressively violated Resolution 1701,” he said.
He added: “Israel expects the international community and the Security Council to condemn this activity by Hezbollah and to demand that the Lebanese government implement Security Council resolutions. We will do whatever it takes to defend our sovereignty and ensure the security of the residents of Israel. ”
The IDF on Tuesday called up a small number of reservists as part of its preparations for a potential escalation on the northern frontier if Hezbollah decides to respond with force to the newly launched effort to find and destroy its cross-border attack tunnels.
Additional tanks, artillery cannons, and armored personnel carriers have been spotted Tuesday on highways leading up to northern Israel.
As of Tuesday evening, the Israeli military has refrained from a mass call-up of reservists, preferring instead to enlist those from select air defense and Military Intelligence units, as the IDF does during most periods of increased tensions and unrest.
The Air Force units were called up in order to provide additional manpower to Israel’s air defense batteries. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and missiles — larger than that of many European countries.
On Tuesday, the military said it uncovered the “first of sure to be many” cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah, as part of its newly launched Operation Northern Shield.
The tunnel was found south of the Israeli town of Metulla along the Lebanese border. The army said it was some 200 meters (650 feet) long, extending some 40 meters (120 feet) into Israeli territory.
According to the IDF, the tunnel originated under a house in the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila.
The army said the tunnel was not yet operational and did not present an immediate threat to residents of the area.
It was the first tunnel that the Israel Defense Forces has said it discovered as part of Northern Shield.
“At this time, having exposed the tunnel, IDF soldiers are conducting engineering and operational efforts before neutralizing it,” the army said in a statement.
The Israeli military has refused to comment on how it plans to destroy the tunnel, with some speculating that the army will fill it with concrete in order to seal it off. In the past, the IDF has also used explosives to demolish tunnels.
Though for now the army’s activities are limited to the Israeli side of the Blue Line — the internationally recognized armistice line that acts as a de facto border between Israel and Lebanon — IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis indicated that other tunnels may be destroyed within Lebanon as well.
“We are prepared for all options, and the operation is only in its first day. The neutralizing of the tunnels will not necessarily take place within our territory,” he said.
Defense analysts have warned that while Hezbollah is unlikely to react so long as the IDF keeps its activities within Israel, the Iran-backed terror group may retaliate if the tunnel-busting effort crosses the border or results in deaths among its operatives.
The army said the tunnel was dug some 25 meters (80 feet) below the ground, and was two meters (six feet) tall by two meters (six feet) wide, significantly larger than most of the tunnels dug by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
According to the IDF, the tunnel took over two years to excavate — due to the harsh terrain under the border — and contained electrical and communication lines as well as ventilation.
“Hezbollah has been using industrial equipment in order to dig these tunnels. We are beginning to assess and analyze the findings,” Conricus told reporters.
In a tweet in English, the army added that the tunnel was dug “with the intention of harming Israeli civilians.”
The IDF also described the cross-border tunnels as a “flagrant and blatant violation of Israeli sovereignty.”
The army lauded itself for finding the tunnels. According to Conricus, Hezbollah’s program to build the underground infrastructure was kept “ultra secret” within the terrorist organization.
The IDF spokesman said the IDF’s effort to find and destroy Hezbollah’s tunnels was also kept on a need-to-know basis.
“It was deeply compartmentalized. Only a select few who needed to know were involved in this operation,” Conricus said.
That secrecy ended on Tuesday, with the public launching of Operation Northern Shield to uncover and destroy the tunnels.
“We’re trying to nip them in the bud,” Conricus said.
The military said it believed the tunnels were for offensive purposes, unlike the tunnels and underground bunkers used by Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which were primarily utilized as defensive measures.
“This was part of a surprise component of [Hezbollah’s] plan” in wartime, Conricus said.
According to the IDF, approximately seven years ago, Hezbollah created a special forces unit, known as the Radwan Unit, specifically tasked with crossing into Israel and causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible both for the sake of the damage to Israel itself and for the “symbolism” of having troops carry out attacks inside Israel.
Tuesday’s operation came as tensions on Israel’s northern border have ramped up in recent days, and hours after Prime Minister Netanyahu traveled to Brussels for a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss Iran and the Hezbollah tunnels.