Israel launches operation to cut off Hezbollah infiltration tunnels

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Credit Amos Ben-Gershom  GPO

US backup: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a short visit to Brussels on Monday.

Israel's military launched Operation Northern Shield, to destroy tunnels constructed by Hezbollah that reach from Lebanon into Israel.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun ordered his country's armed forces and security agencies to "closely monitor" Israel's operation against Hezbollah cross-border tunnels on Tuesday, as officials on both sides of the border sought to avoid escalation. He declined to say how many were detected or how they would be cut off.

The Israeli military says it has launched an operation meant to "expose and thwart" tunnels built on the border by the Hezbollah militant group. Israel has spent years attempting to tackle a network of tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel and has used a variety of methods to destroy tunnels and prevent them from being rebuilt.

The IDF believes Hezbollah has between 100,000 and 120,000 short-range missiles and rockets, as well as several hundred longer-range missiles, and that Iran has been instrumental in establishing underground factories in southern Lebanon where many of these missiles are enhanced with Global Positioning System guides to improve their accuracy. The operation would yield a propaganda victory picture that the organization's leadership could use to demoralize Israel.

A Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper drives an armored vehicle in the Lebanese town of Adaisseh, near the border with Israel, on January 19, 2015.

In a telephone briefing with The Israel Project (TIP), reserve Col. Atai Shelach, former commander of the Yahalom unit in charge of dismantling tunnels, said it was just a matter of time before Israel would launch such an operation.




A United Nations peacekeeping force which monitors the border region said it was calm on Tuesday with no signs of any increased tension. It's "a plan that would coordinate massive barrages of hundreds of missiles with border infiltrations carried out by 5,000 specially-trained Hezbollah terrorists", the report said.

Once inside Israel, they would be able to enter border villages, murder and kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers, and plant the yellow Hezbollah flag in an Israeli village.

The military said in a statement it had "enhanced its presence and readiness in the Northern Command and is prepared for various scenarios".

The last major conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Since then, Hezbollah has become one of the main supporting actors in the war in Syria and tensions with Israel have remained high.

Hezbollah meanwhile has also been distracted by the war in Syria, where it has fought fiercely alongside Assad's troops.

Yoav Kish, a member of Netanyahu's party and chairman of the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee, said the latest operation proves that what was seen as the prime minister being "hesitant and weak" in Gaza was actually "restraint" that made the move in the north possible.

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