Rivlin warns Hezbollah will lead to destruction of Lebanon

President tours tunnel-busting operation along northern border, says Israel will do ‘whatever it takes to defend itself’

President Reuven Rivlin with IDF commanders near the border with Lebanon on December 16, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin with IDF commanders near the border with Lebanon on December 16, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin told Israel Defense Forces soldiers Sunday that the Hezbollah terror group will drag Lebanon into war with Israel, “ultimately leading to [Lebanon’s] destruction.”

“We see the government of Lebanon as responsible for what happens in Lebanon,” Rivlin said as he toured the northern border hours after the IDF announced it had located another Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel, the fourth since it started a search-and-destroy mission called Operation Northern Shield earlier this month.

“We are warning Hezbollah not to impose an Iranian agenda on Lebanon, or to use it to attack Israel,” he said. “The IDF is prepared and ready to respond to any scenario forced upon us.”

“Hezbollah’s offensive tunnels constitute a flagrant violation of Israeli sovereignty, and the international community must understand that Israel will do whatever it takes to defend itself,” Rivlin said.

“Hezbollah, which presents itself as the ‘defender of Lebanon,’ will ultimately lead to its destruction,” he warned.

Israeli troops search for a Hezbollah border-crossing attack tunnel from southern Lebanon, along the northern border, on December 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF believes the Iran-backed terror group intended to use the tunnels as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow dozens or hundreds of fighters into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above-ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.

Operation Northern Shield has raised tensions of a possible fresh conflict on the volatile border, which has seen two wars in recent decades, though Lebanon has downplayed chances of war so long as Israeli troops do not cross the border. United Nation peacekeepers have also stepped up patrols to ensure the frontier remains calm.

The IDF said it was aware of the existence of other tunnels, but has yet to fully expose them. The specific number of tunnels that Israel believes were dug from Lebanon, as well as other information about the operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.

The military launched its tunnel-busting operation on December 4, confirming long-held suspicions that the Lebanese-based Hezbollah had indeed dug tunnels into northern Israel, as residents of the area had been claiming for years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) tours the northern border to see IDF operations to uncover the Hezbollah attack tunnels on December 12, 2018 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that it would face an “unimaginable” response if it tried to interfere with the military’s efforts to uncover and destroy what it says is a network of tunnels snaking into the country from Lebanon.

“If Hezbollah makes the mistake, and decides, in any way, to attack us or to oppose our operation, they will be hit with unimaginable blows,” Netanyahu vowed during a tour of the northern border.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the search and destroy operation would continue “until it achieves all its objectives.”

Israeli officials have indicated the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory to destroy the tunnels if necessary. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said last week that the United States assured him that Israel has “no aggressive intentions” with its Operation Northern Shield.

An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The first and second tunnels were found outside the town of Metulla, near the Lebanese border. The military has refused to reveal the locations of the subsequent tunnels it found, and the military has censored much of the information surrounding the operation, citing national security.

So far, the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of the first and second tunnels, but has yet to comment on the other two. United Nation peacekeepers have also stepped up patrols to ensure the frontier remains calm.

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