But this time we are looking at the possibility of war in the north, a far more serious war than one with Hamas would be.
It was announced yesterday (Tuesday) that Israel is now engaged in Operation Northern Shield. This is a campaign designed to remove Hezbollah tunnels from Israeli territory in the Galilee.
It is being directed by the Northern Command, with the participation of Military Intelligence, and Mapat (the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure). Here you see Commander of the Northern Front, Major General Yoel Strick:
One 200 meter (656 foot) tunnel has been identified and is in process of being dismantled. It begins at a home in the village of Kafr Kela, in southern Lebanon and reaches 40 meters (130 feet) into Israeli territory, into an area near Metulla, a small community in the northern-most part of the Galilee.
According to the IDF, it took Hezbollah two years to dig this tunnel in rocky terrain. It is roughly two meters tall (6 feet 7 inches) and two meters wide; it includes ventilation systems, electricity and piping. Unlike the tunnels Hamas digs in Gaza, Hezbollah’s tunnels do not require concrete walls, as the rocky terrain supports them.
Other such tunnels exist in the area, some of them longer than the one currently exposed. The Operation will continue until all are discovered and rendered inoperable. Thus this is not a pinpoint action limited in time, but an on-going one that may last weeks or months: it will continue “as long as needed.”
As the tunnels were being dug very deep – the one that has already been uncovered was dug 25 meters (82 feet) underground – it is believed that Hezbollah thought that the IDF was unaware of its activities. They were very, very wrong.
According to Chief of Staff Eisenkot, the IDF has been monitoring this activity since late 2014! This has been a top secret undertaking.
The point has been made that the tunnels are not operational and did not (yet) constitute a danger to the residents of the area. In early October, the decision was made to launch the current Operation because a threat was emerging. As I understand it, the delay in acting may have been at least in part a function of the IDF need to first put in place sophisticated technological means of identifying and destroying these tunnels. The technology, second to none in the world, has been developed by Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says that, “Hezbollah’s intention was to infiltrate terrorists into our territory and this is part of a broad campaign they planned to occupy parts of the Galilee…”
These tunnels represent a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty as well as of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
See here a video of statements by the prime minister, Chief of Staff Eisenkot and IDF spokesman Manelis:
The prime minister further makes the point that what has been announced here represents one very small part of what the IDF and security apparatus are doing to protect Israel.
And so we can feel great gratitude to IDF and security forces for their clandestine efforts on behalf of Israel. The situation in Gaza often infuriates me. But it is Hezbollah that has caused me sleepless nights. I think we can all sleep a bit more soundly now – that includes the residents of the north, who have been assured that they can go about their activities normally.
The announcement of the uncovering of these tunnels additionally serves a role in public relations: Hezbollah has been soundly exposed as an aggressor. There is no way digging tunnels into Israel’s sovereign territory can be said to be “defensive” in nature. This may give us greater latitude to act against Hezbollah in the future, both militarily and diplomatically.
Right now we are operating only in Israeli territory, but IDF spokespersons have made it clear that in order to fully dismantle tunnels we may indeed move into Lebanese territory at some point.
Hezbollah has made no official statement at this point, as there is very little to be said by them. How they will respond if (or likely when) we go into Lebanese territory remains to be seen.
Yesterday, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun ordered his country’s armed forces and security agencies to “closely monitor” Israel’s operation.
Yesterday, our prime minister said:
“We are acting with determination and responsibility in all sectors simultaneously. We will continue with other actions, overt and covert, in order to ensure Israel’s security.”
What is not being specifically mentioned in this context now is the enormous cache of rockets and missiles (estimated at about 130,000) being stockpiled by Hezbollah in civilian areas of Lebanon. But it is surely implied. The process of improving some of the missiles via Iranian technology, so that they acquire greater precision, is at the heart of the matter.
During his UN GA speech in September, Netanyahu spoke about Israeli evidence of Hezbollah workshops in Beirut associated with this precision missile upgrade. It is estimated that over a period of time there might be as many as 1,000 missiles upgraded in this fashion, although it does not appear that any have actually been upgraded yet.
At the UN, directing his remarks to Hezbollah, the prime minister said:
“Israel knows what you are doing, Israel knows where you are doing it, and Israel will not let you get away with it.”
Military action to pre-empt an offensive attack by Hezbollah may be on the planning boards for down the road. Or perhaps some other covert plan to stymie Hezbollah’s efforts is in the works.
On Monday, Netanyahu took a quick trip to Brussels to meet with US Secretary of State Pompeo. They are seen here after the prime minister lit Chanukah candles.
It was reported that our prime minister asked Sec. Pompeo to deliver a message to Lebanon:
“Stop Hezbollah’s efforts to get precision guided missiles, or Israel will do so.”
What now becomes apparent is that there was great urgency for Netanyahu to speak with Pompeo in order to properly alert the US before the beginning of Operation Northern Shield.
On Tuesday, US National Security Advisor John Bolton expressed “strong support,” indicating that Washington backed Israel’s “efforts to defend its sovereignty.”
IDF officials have now shared information about the tunnels with Lebanese officials, but I would expect zero cooperation from that quarter, as there is precious little difference between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. And that is precisely what we are seeing: Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, has denied that Israel offered concrete information.
This morning, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke by phone with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, urging international condemnation of Hezbollah and levying of additional sanctions. Guterres is not Berri, but it would be foolish to count on substantive action here. UNIFIL—United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon—has been worse than useless. I hope to return to review this situation in some detail. Remedy for our current situation lies with our own determination; there can be no reliance on international diplomacy.
What a difference a couple of weeks (OK, it’s not a day) has made:
Back in the third week of November, when Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision not to continue to attack Hamas, he addressed the nation, saying:
“I know that this comes at a time when there is a great deal of criticism against Israel’s defense policies. I want to tell you, citizens of Israel, I understand what you feel. Much of the criticism comes from the fact that the reasons [for our decisions] are based on material – seen by the IDF chief of staff, IDF generals, the Shin Bet chief the Mossad director, and myself – that simply cannot be revealed at this point.” (Emphasis added)
At the time, I wrote that I did not necessarily buy this. It felt – to me as well as to a large percentage of the population – just a bit too pat. How can reasons be assessed, I asked, when they cannot be revealed?
Now, quite obviously, I do buy it.
There were other matters of a serious military/security nature pending on which our prime minister/defense minister, security officials and IDF brass would have been focused: Matters that justified their reluctance to become bogged down in a war in Gaza at that moment (although something will likely still need to be done about Hamas at some point).
Incendiary balloons and attempts by a handful of Hamas terrorists to breach the fence at Gaza pale considerably in importance when the issue is a clandestine effort by Hezbollah to inject terrorists into the Galilee via tunnels in an attempt to take over part of our north.
It even occurs to me now that concerns about failure of IDF deterrence have been enormously diminished with the bold and extended operation we are now engaged in.
And it appears, from what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday, that Avigdor Lieberman, when he was Defense Minister, was privy to information about the up-coming Operation Northern Shield. If this was the case, then his angry resignation because of insufficient action in Gaza becomes suspect as a stance of legitimate outrage. Instead, it has taken on the veneer of a politically self-serving gesture.
We are now half-way through Chanukah, and I want to end this post with a video that I found charming: A Chanukah violin medley by Nir Sarussi and Ariella Zeitlin. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.
(One small note here: the video credit acknowledges Kikar Musika, but what I see clearly is Kikar Zion (Zion Square, at the intersection of Ben Yehuda and Yafo in the center of town). Kikar Musika – which may well have been involved in sponsorship somehow – is a very short walk down the adjacent Yoel Solomon Street. It’s a fantastic place to visit.
See my website: https://arlenefromisrael.info
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.