The Israeli military on Friday morning released video footage of soldiers blowing up a cross-border tunnel that it said was dug by Hezbollah near the Israeli community of Zarit, along the Lebanese border.
In the video, filmed Thursday night, an Israel Defense Forces officer can be seen speaking into a megaphone and urging resident of the Lebanese town of Ramyeh on the other side of the border to clear the area for their own safety.
“We are about to blow up this tunnel built by Hezbollah,” the unnamed officer can be heard saying. “We ask you to evacuate the area immediately. You are in danger.”
The video then cuts to another officer, 300th Regional Brigade Commander Col. Roey Levi, ordering the demolition of the tunnel and then shows a series of explosions.
The army’s efforts to find and destroy the Iran-backed terror group’s tunnels have taken place on the Israeli side of the border, though often quite close to Lebanon.
“The neutralization and destruction phase of Hezbollah’s cross-border attack tunnels begun yesterday and is led by the combat engineering units of the Northern Command and the Yahalom (Special Combat Engineering) Unit,” the military said in a statement.
“As part of this effort, a cross-border attack tunnel dug from the Shi’ite village of Ramyeh into Israel was detonated,” the statement said. “The IDF holds the Lebanese Government responsible for digging the attack tunnels and the consequences of this action. The IDF will continue to expose and neutralize cross-border attack tunnels in accordance with the approved plan.”
The military announced earlier Thursday that it had begun to seal off some of the Hezbollah attack tunnels dug into northern Israel from southern Lebanon.
In some cases, the tunnels will be plugged shut, while in others they will be destroyed with explosives.
“This stage will be carried out with a number of techniques and measures, which will render the tunnels entirely unusable and will prevent Hezbollah from utilizing them and carrying out its plans,” the army said in a statement Thursday.
The military launched Operation Northern Shield — an effort to find and destroy attack tunnels that the military says Hezbollah dug into Israeli territory from villages in southern Lebanon — on December 4.
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the army was using different methods for each tunnel as each one was unique.
“Some of them have concrete components, some of them were dug into the living rock,” he said. “Each tunnel has a tailored [destruction] technique.”
The process of destroying the tunnels, which began after days of preparations, would “take time” and was likely to last well into the night, Conricus said.
He said only some of the tunnels were being destroyed on Thursday, while others would be “neutralized” in the future.
The military warned the Lebanese population against “approaching the openings of the tunnels or standing near them” in order to avoid collateral damage, Conricus said.
Local governments and residents of the areas around the tunnels found inside Israeli territory were also informed of the IDF’s activities in order to avoid potential injuries.
The military deployed additional troops to the Lebanese border at the start of Operation Northern Shield as a precautionary measure against possible retaliatory attacks by Hezbollah. They remained in place with the start of the new stage of the operation, the IDF said.
“The Northern Command is prepared with reinforcements and a variety of other capabilities on high alert for any developments, should they occur,” the army said.
Israel has said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by the Iran-backed terror group as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, to allow dozens or hundreds of its fighters into Israel, alongside a mass infiltration of operatives above ground and the launching of rockets, missiles and mortar shells at northern Israel.
Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army was using “special means” to seal off the tunnels. “We are continuing in our efforts to thwart those terror tunnels,” he added.
So far the army has said it has discovered four such tunnels inside Israeli territory, one of them south of the town of Metulla and the other, which featured in the video released Friday, near the community of Zarit.
The IDF has refused to disclose the locations of the other two tunnels.
The UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL confirmed on Monday that at least two of the tunnels crossed into Israel and were therefore a violation of the UN resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but did not confirm Israel’s allegations they were dug by Hezbollah. United Nation peacekeepers have stepped up patrols since the launch of the operation to ensure the frontier remains calm.
UN Resolution 1701 requires all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River.
The army has also said it is 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 operation is taking place close to Lebanese territory, sometimes on the north side of the border wall, albeit still inside Israeli territory.
An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah, which bills itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Lebanon has downplayed chances of war so long as Israeli troops do not cross the border.
Israeli officials have indicated that the IDF may operate within Lebanese territory, if necessary, to destroy the tunnels. Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said Tuesday that the United States assured him that Israel has “no aggressive intentions” with its Operation Northern Shield.
Israel maintains that the tunnels represent a “serious violation of Resolution 1701 and the State of Israel’s sovereignty.”