Israel launches operation on Lebanon border to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels

By Judah Ari Gross for the Times of Israel, December 4, 2018 –

IDF Northern Command on high alert as army starts ‘neutralizing’ not-yet operational passages into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon; Metulla area declared closed zone.

The military said it believed these tunnels were for offensive purposes, unlike the tunnels and underground bunkers used by Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which were primarily used for its defensive strategies.

Conricus said the tunnels “are not yet operationally ready” and therefore did not pose an “immediate threat.”

Israeli soldiers patrols near the area where Hezbollah held a rally to mark al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, at the village of Maroun el-Rass on the Lebanon-Israel border, June 8, 2018. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

The operation came as tensions on Israel’s northern border have ramped up in recent days, and hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Brussels for a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss Iran and security challenges on Israel’s northern border, likely referring to Hezbollah.

Israeli security chiefs were holding security assessments throughout the day on Tuesday in order to predict Hezbollah’s reaction to the IDF operation.

The Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesperson called on Hezbollah members and Lebanese citizens to keep away from the tunnels. “You’ve been warned,” he wrote on Twitter.

Israel has long said that Hezbollah planned to conduct cross-border raids in any future conflict, with the specific goal of attacking and conquering a civilian town near the border. Northern residents have raised fears in recent years of attack tunnels being dug under the border, spurring the IDF to launch a task force to investigate the concerns in 2014.

“[Hezbollah’s] main goal is to kill as many people as they can in [Israeli] villages and army bases,” a senior officer IDF officer said earlier this year, in a briefing to reporters on the Lebanese border.

The IDF operation began in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning. The military declared the area around the community of Metulla a closed military zone, but gave no other special instructions to Israeli civilians in the area.

The army said the operation was expected to expand to other locations along the Israeli-Lebanese border in the coming days. A spokesman said the operation might last weeks.

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